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Permaculture Principles in Missions

In coming to Swaziland, southern Africa, my husband Sean and I imagined permaculture might play a role in our garden or mission work. However, it wasn’t until we found ourselves at a Permaculture Design Course in South Africa that we realized how interwoven the principles and practices of permaculture were becoming in our practices, garden, and missional intent. As a way to establish a permanent culture of living, permaculture principles encourage communities to be imaginatively resourceful and resilient. These applied principles shape our production of food, the design of residential areas, as well as our community work.

In reflection, we saw how permaculture principles echo Christian ethics. We have nuanced our Christian missionary perspectives in light of permaculture principles and practices. It is through the collective, collaborative lens of permaculture and Christian ethics that we view our work. It is from this place that we move out, going about our business of bringing a little more of Christ into our corner of the world.

Observe and Interact

“Observation of nature gives us firsthand experience, as opposed to books, teachers, Internet, which are 2nd and 3rd hand sources. We need to observe, recognize patterns and appreciate details that may often be small, slow, subtle, cyclical or episodic.” 1

When first looking at a piece of land, dreaming of what redemption can come to the soil and people, what plants will grow to feed us, what trees will thrive to shade us, and what animals will prosper to help us in our work, the first place we start is water.

We look at where our closest water source lies and how the water moves across the landscape. We examine where the water pools and where it runs quickly. We observe how the water rushes across the ground during a hard rain. After water, we watch how the sun moves throughout a day, throughout the change of seasons. We watch long enough to see which animals and birds venture across this space, even interacting with them, following them to their holes or nests, learning where they come from, what they do, and where they go. We see neighbors and how they use our common fence line, their patterns of living and moving. Hopefully, in the intentional watching, we learn what not to touch or change and what energy we can use and how. From these observations, we begin to build a plan, a design for the space that incorporates our findings.

This permaculture principle, like all of them, is cyclical. You begin by listening and observing. You determine a necessary action and start moving toward that action. Then you realize your actions are not received well, so you stop and listen some more. When you think you’ve observed and dabbled in interactions enough, you start movement again.

Author, activist, and educator Bill McKibben addresses how “big” we humans have become, especially concerning science, the world’s working, and specifically the climate. In an interview with Krista Tippet on Speaking of Faith, he recalls the last three chapters of Job, when God responds to Job’s incessant begging for answers and reasons why he has suffered.2

Just when Job is feeling big, like maybe he has some answers, as if he could teach the Creator a thing or two, God responds. “Where does the light come from, and where does the darkness go?” (38:19).3 “Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane?” (39:19). The mere questions from God shrink Job back to being small again. He seems content to acknowledge, “I was talking about things I knew nothing about” (42:3). Job seems content to become small and let the shrinking happen, recognizing God is God and Job is not.

In our current world, it is easy to assume we have the answers. As McKibben points out, reading God’s questions for Job through today’s lens, we could respond, “Hell yes!”4 Hell yes I know the morning light comes from the earths’ rotation and orbit around the sun. Hell yes, we can breed a horse for its strength or (heaven help us) genetically modify its DNA so it has a silkier mane. In all that we Westerners do we can easily find the answer of how and why. The mystery is erased.

McKibben continues, “We have become very big. Our job is to get small again.”5 Creation has begun to reap the harvest of humanity becoming too big. Problems of soil loss and degradation in large-scale agriculture; giant corporations who cannot loan to the poor on company policy; and the waste that nation after nation has no place for. It’s time to become small again.

Richard Rohr calls this idea “the beginner’s mind.” In Everything Belongs, this Franciscan priest and author points out that we must not journey through life assuming we know, assuming we see, but we “must always be ready to see anew.”6

In Luke 18, we encounter an image of Christ welcoming the little children to him. He admonishes his listeners that “anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (v. 17). The beginner’s mind. Getting small again. Shrinking the ego, the brain-with-all-the-answers, stepping out of the center, and allowing God to orient us. Allowing us to learn together, re-center ourselves in humility, and begin through questions.

Quieting our have-all-the-answers minds in order to allow the child-like mind to step forward, Sean and I entered into our new lives in Swaziland. Learning from the mistakes of former mission workers who graciously shared with us, we sought not to have answers but questions, not only to talk about valuing local talent but also to have community leaders guide us. We intentionally moved slowly for the first six months, focusing on listening and learning over teaching and telling. Learning siSwati. Learning how to get around. Listening to the people around us, talking to other missionaries, getting to know whatever Swazi we came across, and speaking to NGO workers. We asked questions instead of giving answers.

Our six months of intentional listening spilled into nine months, then a year. In that time we slowly began more “work.” Out of such listening came eventual pursuits in response to our community. Sean started a garden with Make (Mrs.) Lulane on a common piece of land; I taught expecting moms at the hospital. Sean researched and introduced fuel-efficient stoves to some Swazi friends; I helped my first doula client. Slowly, the word spread as it does in a small town where everyone walks and has plenty of time in that walk to chat. Invitations happened.

“The people of Masini are asking if you will come and show them this stove.”

“Can you help my friend who is also pregnant?”

And with the invitations, we walked deeper into the neighborhood. Sean kept returning to Masini, a town just 2.5 miles from our little rented place. A proper Swazi community, everyone hauled their bathing, cooking, and drinking water from the Mkhondvo River. During the rainy season, most people planted maize on their homesteads. A few adventurous folks planted moringa trees, okra, cabbage, and Swiss Chard.

It was to this community that Make Lulane begged us to move. Not so she could gain anything from us. Not so we might build her a house, or bring electricity or television. No, she insisted, “You want to live in a community, so I will give you land. Come to my home. Be my neighbor. My husband and I are happy with this. We will take nothing from you. I just want you to have a home where you can start your work.”

She begged us so desperately once that I told Sean, “We have to seriously consider moving onto her land. If we keep refusing, she may become offended.” Make Lulane’s invitations highlight a crucial piece of our application of the “observe and interact” principle. We had hoped that by watching folks, listening, and interacting with them, that they might invite us to live with them. “Why don’t you move here?” traverses culture and language much better than “We decided to purchase a prime piece of real estate in a community where no one wanted us, or a place that did not fit our needs because we jumped in too quickly.”

As life would have it, the family we sub-leased our servant’s quarters-house from was moving soon. Forced to find a new home, Sean headed into Masini. A friend took him to a nice rondavel (round house with thatched roof) with a fenced property and flat, agricultural land. Two weeks later we moved into a community where we were invited—into a community that oriented herself along the river.

Such invitation and welcome seems to be fruit from our slow movement, listening ears, asking mouths. Our attempts to speak siSwati impress our neighbors, telling them, “I care enough about you to learn to speak your language.” And we are not only interested in the language of their tongues but of their lives, their gardens, their birthing experiences, and their education. We hope our interest will eventually turn into a way for us to come together, learning to speak a larger, louder language of grace and love that causes the whole of the nation to turns its head towards Masini, to observe and interact with the way we are living here, next to our river, amongst each other, and on our homesteads.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal

“The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.”

Edges attract a lot of activity, being a crossroads and meeting place for creatures and people alike. For example, the edge where a forest and meadow meet has more activity than deep in the forest or in the wide-open meadow. At our place, the fence edge gets a lot of action. Neighbors’ cows chow anything sticking through to their side of the fence; the goats shove their heads through gaps and demolish anything on the borders. Children run to the fence and greet us as we work in the garden. Our dog respects the edge, not venturing beyond it. Birds sit here, chirping and tweeting, cleaning themselves and scoping the next seed-extraction site. We’ve spent as many hours patching, building, and adding to the fence as cultivating the space it protects. Action happens at the fence. There’s activity on the edge.

So too with Christ. He spent his ministry not only on the streets, but also in the synagogue. His healings happened on the road; people gathered in open places to hear him teach. He, himself, was an edge. He drew together people from the margins and people from the “in” crowds of society. His kingdom was and is for the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the sinners and the “righteous”—for all. His way of living wasn’t like “us” or like “them;” he created a new way, a third way.

Turn the other cheek. Give them your cloak. It’s not just a literal admonishment for non-violence or charity, but an invitation to live in a third way. In Jesus’ way, when we’re smacked, we don’t hit back, and we don’t walk away. We look our assailant in the eye and boldly offer our other cheek and allow the weight of our presence to be felt and acknowledged. In such reactions lie a tinge of subversion and humble rejection of societal norms. Through such subversion of our systems people begin to question: What is this other way? Our echoing of Jesus’ third way raises eyebrows and the people lean in. Watching. Waiting. Listening. Eager for what we’ll show them.

Early in our lives here I made a debilitating mistake. Swaziland has a population of 1.2 million, 5% being white. Over 800 Americans alone live here, running NGOs, facilitating missions, and working at the embassy. South African families of European descent have also moved into Swaziland, enticed by her peaceful nature and cheap labor, so a minority population of white folks live here. Early on, I decided to be different than the other expatriates, missionaries, and “white” folks around me. I worked tirelessly to make sure I was kinder than them, didn’t hire a gardener to do the gardening for me, and even proved my difference by advancing in siSwati. In short, I feared being too much like the culture I came from. I feared drawing too deeply from my twisted roots of ethnocentricity, materialism, and superiority. I didn’t want to be the NGO that came into a community, installed a community garden, and walked away before anyone could tell us, “We don’t have water for these crops.” Yet, in my attempts to be “less than” the Swazis I met, I sought to be “better than” the expat community. My twisted attempt at humility and listening and learning puffed up my own pride. My head swelled, and my heart shrunk.

This tension tore me between being friends with a South African couple and their maids. I would visit my Swazi friend, Ncamsile, at her homestead, which looked much like where I lived. We’d chat, have tea, and look at her field of maize. The next day I’d visit my friend Jean’s house, which looks much like the middle-class home I grew up in. At Jean’s house, Ncamsile sheepishly greeted me in siSwati, hanging her head low as she washed dishes in the sink, then brought a tray of tea to her boss and me on the porch. And the lovely boss lady and I would have a wonderful chat, gazing out over her flower garden, discussing life. But the tension between these two worlds threatened to tear me apart.

Immaturely, wrongly, I degraded my Expat friends to my Swazi friends. My twisted thoughts told me, “By belittling the one, I will esteem the other.” Such action only reflect badly on the belittler—me.

In short, I kept my physical and emotional distance in friendships with these affluent folks. The questions I asked prevented me from ever drawing near to these neighbors.

How could I be friends with anyone who lives in this golf estate? Clearly, we have nothing in common. They have running water; I have a tank outside. They have four bedrooms; I have a one-room rondavel. Their budget is ten times mine. They report to work at an eight-to-four job at an orphanage; I create my own work, gardening, doula-ing, and showing up at church events. This chasm grew between me and the people who spoke my language fluently, knew where my hometown was, and who sought relationship with me. By pushing away from this growing expat community, I shoved myself into isolation, where loneliness crept in.

I was a person on the edge, living in a space between two worlds, and I threw myself off the fence. Instead of embracing my unique position of friendships with people from two worlds that often misunderstood each other, I rejected it. Instead of inviting such friends together to share a meal, I segregated my life. White friends and Swazi friends. There were two boxes. Two labels. And I aimed to keep them separate because I felt guilt.

There’s still quite a tension. Push it too far, and I’ll be using the gospel to advance my pocketbook, pride, and capitalism. Don’t push it enough, and I’ll start thinking I’m better because I live in a one-room house. It is only through Christ’s illuminating presence in my life that the delicate balance can be struck. There’s an edge to live on. I can live at the space between two worlds. I can take bucket baths in my house, Swazi-style, or steal hot showers from the clubhouse . I can speak siSwati, tell jokes, and laugh with an old gogo grandma. I can speak my mother tongue, ask how someone’s doing, and be a listening friend. It is in this kind of living that I begin to see more of Christ. I am a creator of love, goodness, light, joy, and peace amongst my human neighbors. Whether we are rich or poor, we all need gentle correction when we’ve done wrong. We need challenges to grow from. We need people to live on the edge with. We all need acceptance from the people around us, and invitation to live more deeply, more fully as echoes of Christ’s third way. We need reminders that there is an edge, a place teeming with life, full of love and friendships.

And I’m stirring the pot with my very presence. I am asking people to re-examine these walls erected between “us” and “them.” By standing at the fence, talking to everyone—Swazis, whites—my presence values the marginal.

Use Small, Slow [Creative] Solutions

“Small and slow solutions are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.”

Conventional farming tells us to feed our crops using chemical fertilizer. Even for a quarter-acre homestead garden, I could drive to the supply store, purchase several pounds of fertilizer, don a HAZMAT suit and spray my crops. My crops would grow with the chemical “nutrients” I had sprayed on them. It’s a quick, more costly, instant-gratification response to a need.

Permaculture farming tells us the answer is much slower, much smaller. In order to feed our crops, we must first feed our soil. Months before we plant, we compost. We create soil out of manure, grass cuttings, and kitchen scraps. We employ worms to “farm” compost for us. And 18 days after I’ve turned my hot compost 5 times and watered it bi-weekly, it’s finally ready to feed my plants. This solution takes about 30 times the input of time, yet almost none of the cost. Additionally, it’s a lasting solution, unlike conventional farming’s chemical answer. Sure, I’ll keep adding compost to my soil, mending it, reconciling the microbial life; however, at some point, the soil will reach its potential as a self-regenerative system.

This specific permaculture principle is: “Use small, slow solutions.” However, I would expand it to, “Use small, slow, creative responses to everything.”

Jesus incarnated as a small, slow, creative response to man’s sinful bent. He could have come as a King, decreeing we love one another, demanding we turn the other cheek and journey two miles when asked forced to accompany a Roman soldier for one. He was not a God-man of projects and big programs, but one of spending time and being with people. Not only he did stand to teach the thousands, but the Gospels show he poured more time and energy into healing people—one broken, lonely, misshapen person at a time. In a crowd, he focused on one. His very essence and manner was of humble, small actions.

Sean and I could get pulled in a lot of directions. Put the word out that you work for free and might know something about moving water without electricity, and people will think of work for you to do.

“Move here. Start a farm to give our community jobs.”

“Let’s start an agricultural training school. You can facilitate and teach hundreds of people a year about farming your way.”

While these requests floored us, we only desired to work intimately with less than 5 families in our community. Yes, the lure of transforming a whole nation of 1.2 million appeals. Yes, having a large orphanage or farm or school or project attracts donors who pour in their “‘atta girls” and piles of cash. Such “big” projects are easy to hang our hats on, or point to and say, “Look what we’ve done.” Yet, Sean and I cannot sustain the large and complicated. (Who can?!) We see a God who moves differently, smaller even. He moves through relationship and being with people, just as much at teaching and healing people. Instead of “getting bigger”, Sean and I move out from ourselves, first getting our garden to actually grow a healthy crop. Then we may have a teeny bit of advice to offer when someone wonders why his or her hectare of sugar beans didn’t germinate. We commit ourselves to staying small, so that we might move slow, and be creative advocates for the growth of our home turf.

In addition to staying grounded and centralized in our location and work, we seek creative responses to everything. In Swaziland, being white tells people we probably have disposable income, so we get a lot of requests for financial help. In our response, we aim to creatively exchange resources with people. Often we circumnavigate the exchange of the emalangeni (Swaziland’s currency), instead choosing to trade man-hours, edible resources, or services when it is applicable.

Outside the closest grocery store, a mother and her two daughters sell fruits. The mother travels 30 minutes to town on a public bus, to purchase apples, bananas, and oranges imported from South Africa. She loads her boxes of fruit back onto a bus and then sets up her “shop” on the curb of the grocery store’s parking lot.

Over a year ago, when we moved into the neighborhood, I met these three. The ten-year-old schoolgirl, the pregnant teenager, and their siSwati-speaking mother. Over my initial purchases of fruit, I managed to fumble through, “Please speak slowly, I’m learning siSwati.”

The daughters’ eyes lit up. “Oh, you’re learning siSwati,” they said in English.

I laughed and said, “Well I’m trying. But only if you speak it with me, please.” And so began the delight of a friendship where they sell fruit and I buy it. A relationship where they teach me, and I learn.

It didn’t come for more than a year. Or maybe my siSwati wasn’t good enough to hear it for a year. But then it came last month. A request. A plea. An asking. Annunciating slowly for me, the Fruit-Selling-Mama said, “Your friend [the youngest daughter has been referred to as “my friend” since I met her], needs a uniform for school. Can you please help me buy a uniform?”

My heart sunk. Crap! Panic set in. Now what do I say? We’re not in the business of giving anything out for free, but school’s important. This is delicate, and I must respect her in my reply. Research DOES show that a young girl is more likely to complete school if she just has a uniform and a few pencils. And I don’t want her to drop out like her older sister because she got pregnant. Frozen to the concrete, stunned, I wished Sean were there to help me. I stuttered a feeble reply that I would think about it and speak to my husband, which I did.

Sean hatched a plan I liked. I scribbled down what I wanted to say to this mom. Then Nomduduso, our tutor, helped me translate it. Ten whole days later, I headed to the grocery store, armed with my grocery list, resolve, and my translated response to Fruit-Selling-Mama.

I approached with a full page of siSwati phrases. After greeting her, I launched into my reply. We walked through how much profit she gets from a given box of fruits. We talked about how I don’t like to give anything to anyone because it makes me feel like a bank (she laughed), and it complicates our relationship. Instead, I prefer supporting people in the work they are already doing, “like buying fruit from you instead of in the store.”

I told her, “I’m wanting to make jam or apple sauce, so I’m hoping you can help me with my problem. Could you get me one or two boxes of peaches or apples?”

At first she just peered at me from under her hat’s brim. What? Her eyes asked. Her question rested between those squinting eyes, the scrunched eyebrows. How does this connect to the uniform problem?

I continued, “And I was thinking, maybe with the extra profit you’re going to get, you can buy a uniform.” And she exploded. Into clapping hands, laughing smile, dancing feet, and swelling pride. Yes, yes. This was a good idea. She could do it. She would be happy to earn the money for the uniform.

And so I got some apples, which I turned into scrumptious applesauce. And Mama got a paycheck, then a uniform. And we both kept our dignity and took one small step toward more relationship. A step toward a solution we can all live with. It’s a solution we can sustain because I eat a lot of applesauce.

Our lives in Swaziland are like our budding garden. For months we hacked down weeds, mended the fence, composted grass, hauled manure, babied seedlings, and mulched beds. For handfuls of months we’ve listened, studied language, wrestled with life on the edge, failed at life lived among the marginal, and sought creative, small responses to both our needs and those of our community members. As I sit here, amongst the garden on a coveted plastic chair, the yellow finches tweet along the fence line, swooping into our chicken coop to scoop some seed. The chickens cluck quietly, fluffing and dusting their feathers in the improving soil. A towering oxheart tomato shades my skirted legs. Our landlord passes wearing his wife’s wide-brimmed, pink hat that shades his eyes. A voice from underneath the brim shouts,“I can see the lemon grass is growing. Soon you will make tea.” I nod and smile, bobbing the wide-brimmed straw hat that rests on my own head. “Yebo.” “Yes, I hope so. And then we will drink some together.”

A fancy silver car dashes up the road, passes our drive, backs up quickly, then blasts down the driveway. Our Afrikaner friends come to pick up their puppy that we dog-sat for the long weekend. After packing up the dog bed and food, they give me a big “Thank you so much.”

And I respond, “As the Swazis say, ‘Wemukelikile.’ You are welcome here anytime.”

Nicole’s first endeavors into cross-cultural living started with inner city Newark, New Jersey, where she taught high school students English. Since 2012, Nicole has lived in Swaziland with her husband Sean and their faithful Jack Russell, Thor. Their blog exposes more of their journey at

1 The principles quoted in this article are from Permaculture South Africa, “Permaculture Design Course Handbook” (handbook created by course instructors),

2 Bill McKibben, “The Moral Math of Climate Change,” On Being with Krita Tippett, podcast audio, August 5, 2010,

3 Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.

4 McKibben.

5 McKibben.

6 Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2003), 33.

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The Instructions of Jesus Regarding Missionary Lifestyle

Missionary lifestyle has long been subject to vigorous discussion. What do the Scriptures say regarding the topic? Do the words of Jesus when sending His disciples apply today? Do the epistles add any clarity to the question? Do the instructions of Christ apply to missionaries only or equally to all of his followers? The Scriptures are consistent when they are allowed to speak for themselves.

What is the appropriate lifestyle for a missionary? If given a choice, most missionaries might opt for a mansion instead of a mud hut. Should they? Lifestyle decisions are very personal (or so the Western world assumes). Do missionaries have the right to decide how they should live? Those preparing for missionary service are encouraged to follow the instructions of Christ. Missionary trainers often say the pursuit of personal rights culminates in the acceptance of Jesus as Lord. Once that right has been exercised, only responsibilities remain. Is this a proper reading of Scripture? Must we abandon our right to lifestyle choices as a messenger of the cross?

Exhortations of Scripture

When one studies the requirements for discipleship, it is quickly observed that two areas of concern are mentioned: people and possessions.

1. People. Jesus asked his followers to put him first—above other people, especially family members (Luke 14:26). In point of fact, his first followers left parents and fellow workers (Mark 1:20)—though they were promised a new and larger circle of relatives (Mark 10:29–30).

2. Possessions. Distrust of wealth was a central teaching of Jesus (Mark 4:19), for the wealthy will find it difficult to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23). Hence, the Master encouraged renouncing all possessions, selling them, and giving the proceeds to the poor (Luke 12:33–34). When called into discipleship, the followers of Jesus left their jobs (Mark 1:16–20). When sent into the mission field, the disciples were instructed to leave behind their possessions (Mark 6:8–9). The recipients of their message would provide their needs (Matt. 10:10). Those who left their possessions were promised an abundant reward (Mark 10:29).

Analysis of Commitment

What did Jesus mean? Do his exhortations apply today? For whom did he intend these extraordinary demands? The texts under consideration were addressed to the “disciples.” The term disciple referred narrowly to “the twelve” (John 2:2) and broadly to “those who believe” (Matt 10:42). In this section of the article, comments will be restricted to the narrower sense—those Jesus sent out as missionaries.

1. Specific demands. When the Lord called the disciples to become “fishers of men,” they left both employment and family (Luke 5:11). It was a practical consequence of changing vocations. Those who answer the call to mission should, out of the necessity of the assignment, sever their ties with employment and relatives in order to go overseas.

2. General requirements. While the specific demands mention the disciples by name, the general requirements refer to unknown persons. Three requirements are stated. First, whoever plans to follow Jesus should weigh the cost of insecurity, which likely grew out of the specific demands above (Matt 8:18–20). Second, whoever follows Jesus should put his mission above all other human plans (Luke 9:59–60). And, third, whoever wants to follow Jesus must make an absolute commitment without regrets or afterthoughts (Luke 9:61–62). These general requirements have a single purpose: In order to be with Jesus, to be his missionary, one must be ready for everything and prefer him over all things. These requirements do not ask for concrete renunciation but refer to an unconditional commitment to the Lord—a commitment that takes priority over all other values.

Preparations for Mission

The preparation of the twelve and the sending of the seventy-two are concerned with the opposition that the messengers would encounter: hate, persecution, and death (Matt 10:17–24). Thus, the Lord issues special instructions to his missionaries.

1. Strategic arrangements. Christ sends his messengers in pairs (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). They are to greet no one along the road (Luke 10:4). They are forbidden to move from house to house (Luke 10:7). These missionaries are also given particularly strict instructions concerning what they could take on their journey (though the stipulations varied).

Provisions for Mission Matt
Bread No
Bag No No No
Money No No
Staff No Yes
Extra tunic No No
Sandals No Yes No

The Gospel of Mark began the list of instructions with the words, “take nothing for the journey” (Mark 6:8) but allows a staff and sandals (Mark 6:8–9), both of which are prohibited by Matthew. What does all of this mean? It seems that the intent is not ascetic poverty (or scorn of wealth) but functional poverty (or necessity of the task). In others words, mission requires haste. Therefore, missionaries are to travel light, to be unencumbered. God (and the good will of the hearers) would provide (Matt 10:10; Luke 10:7; 22:35). It is apparent, however, once the conditions change—namely, when they encountered hostile situations—Jesus recommends different behavior (Luke 22:36).

2. Spiritual preparations. Though Jesus sent out the disciples as peaceful envoys, they would eventually confront opposition (Mark 13:9, 12). Initially, the religious leaders would attack the missionaries (Luke 21:12). Later, the messengers of the Lord would be “hated by all” (Mark 13:13), which included their very own families (Matt 10:21; Luke 21:16). These hate and persecution sayings are placed in the context of sending out the twelve as well as the suffering at the end of the age. Matthew places them in both contexts (Matt. 10:17–18; 24:9), while Mark and Luke restrict them to the eschatological discourse alone (Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12–17). Opposition was obviously a common experience for the first missionaries. It is, likewise, a similar experience for their contemporary counterparts (Matt 10:25).

All of the passages that address missionary preparation revolve around the idea of being “with Jesus” (Mark 3:14; 5:18). Since he was central, all other realities (family, occupation, security, and self-affirmation) were thrust to the periphery. The missionary texts concentrate on the decision (rather than the behavior) of commitment. “Denial of oneself” is the bedrock of missionary service (Matt 16:24–28). Such submission requires “forsaking all.” The urgency of mission demands “taking nothing for the journey.” Nevertheless, behind all of these stipulations is the example of the Lord, the model of self-renunciation (2 Cor 8:9).

Characteristics of Ministry

The history of the early church echoes the requirements which were clearly articulated during the ministry of the Lord. How did the early church respond to his demands? Did they alter any of them and, if so, in what way?

1. Acts. Because Acts was authored by Luke, we are afforded an opportunity to see how he views the extraordinary demands of Jesus operational in the life and growth of the young community of faith. First, the attitude of the early church toward money is quite clear. The Lord insists on his followers divesting themselves of their possessions in order to share with others, especially with the poor (Luke 12:33; 14:33). Describing the life of the first community of believers in Jerusalem, Luke shows in a concrete way how such sharing is done. Those who have possessions sell them and place the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to be shared or distributed according to the needs of each one (Acts 2:43–45; 4:32–45; 5:2). In the Gospel of Luke, the sharing is with the poor in general, while in Acts the sharing is with believers in particular. Divestiture does not lead to poverty but community. The same theme plays out in other texts (Acts 11:29; 20:33-35). Though Luke makes no allusion to the sayings of Jesus in Acts, it is clear that the renunciation was not asceticism—a repudiation of wealth—but the creation of a community of believers through the sharing of wealth.

Second, the attitude of the early church toward suffering is also clear. For example, Stephen prays for those who are in the process of stoning him to death (Acts 7:60). So, too, Paul endures hardship for Jesus’ sake (Acts 9:16; 20:23). Paul and Barnabas put their lives on the line for the Lord (Acts 15:26). They attach no value to their existence (Acts 20:24); therefore, they are ready to die for Christ (Acts 21:13). They are glad to suffer humiliation for “the sake of the name” (Acts 5:40, 41). Such was and is the calling of a missionary.

2. Epistles. The letters describe the messianic significance of Jesus and his effect on the behavior of the first century saints. It is no surprise, then, that the historical elements of his life and ministry are almost totally absent in the epistles. Still, the letters announce several radical demands which closely resemble the requirements of discipleship enunciated by Jesus. The following are pertinent. First, Christians need an enduring faith. The early church suffered various trials: hunger, thirst, abuse, insult, imprisonment, beatings, and poverty (1 Cor 4:11; 2 Cor 6:4–5, 10). Such was the fate of every believer (2 Tim 3:11–12). Yet, those who suffered were abundantly blessed (2 Thess 1:5; 1 Pet 2:19–20; 4:13–14). The epistles obviously reflect Jesus’ emphasis.

Second, a community of possessions is necessary. Paul insists on churches helping poor saints (Rom. 15:26; Gal 2:10). Therefore, he organizes a collection for the believers in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4). He calls it a koinōnia, that is, a sharing (2 Cor 8:4). The sharing of material possessions is a proof of Christian-ness (1 John 3:17; 4:20), a demonstration of the correct understanding of a believer’s relationship to money (1 Tim 6:17-19; Heb 13:16). Quite clearly the disciple of Jesus must be free from dependency on material things (1 Cor 7:31; Phil 4:6). All of this echoes the sobering challenge of Jesus (Matt 6:25–34).

Third, discipleship demands a deep love. The compassion of believers is distinctive in a world of secular values. They are called upon to bless those who persecuted them Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12), to return good to those who hurt them (Rom 12:20), to avoid anger (Col 3:8), and to show courtesy to everyone (Titus 3:2). If those are not outrageous enough, believers are also to refrain from revenge (Rom 12:17; 1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:8–9). Even though there was injustice, believers are not to demand their rights (from fellow saints) (1 Cor 6:7). Rather, the followers of the humble Galilean must bear with others (Col 3:13), carry their burdens, (Gal 6:2), and refrain from judging them (Rom 14:4, 10). If correction is needed, it must be carefully administered (2 Thess 3:15; Eph 4:32). All of this requires a new attitude (Col 3:12). The teachings of the post-resurrection epistles are strikingly similar to the pre-resurrection sayings of Jesus. Faith in Christ calls for a radical reorientation of a believer’s relationship with both God and man.

Significance for Today

What does all of this mean for us today? How should a missionary understand these radical sayings?

1. Particular instructions. All of the requirements for missionary service can be clustered around four instructions. In other words, Christ called for drastic actions that measured faithfulness.

First, the missionary must follow Jesus. In order to be his messenger, one must deny oneself, take up the cross, and follow him. This will lead to opposition, persecution, and even death. To walk with the Lord, one must put him ahead of family and possessions when they stand in the way of complete commitment. When sent into mission, the messenger relies on the grace of God (Acts 14:26).

Second, the missionary must love others. To love our fellow human beings, one must refrain from judging and condemning. The missionary is called to forgive, to reconcile, to avoid harsh words and bad feelings—to be compassionate as God is compassionate—toward both his fellow missionaries and the local people.

Third, the missionary must live a life of humility. The kingdom is given to those who hunger and thirst for it, who suffer till it comes, who are as defenseless and powerless as children. Though works of righteousness are required, no matter how much is done, the missionary will be an “unworthy servant.” For the Master will never be indebted to the slave.

And, finally, the missionary must share his possessions. Riches are a permanent danger, though poverty is never presented as a goal or asceticism a way of life. Missionaries are to be suspicious of money because it tempts them and those to whom it is given to place their trust in material possessions. The call to sell everything must be seen in the perspective of giving, distributing, and sharing with the saints in order to form community.

2. Appropriate interpretations. As radical demands, these unusual sayings often appear impossible. This may be due to Jesus’ use of paradoxical expressions in order to make striking, unforgettable images. It is useful to form a taxonomy of these statements. On one hand, some of the radical requirements cannot be taken literally: become a child, carry your cross, and give to everyone who asks. These statements are designed, as exaggerated expressions, to suggest that extreme (though not literal) action is necessary. On the other hand, many of these radical demands contain degrees of literalness, that is, they are literal “in some circumstances” over against “in all situations.” In some circumstances, such as going the second mile and letting everything possessed be taken away, the demands apply to events where a greater power inflicts abuse. In every situation, such as renouncing oneself and losing oneself, the demands are definitive orders to obey.

Relevance to Mission

How do these outrageous stipulations apply to contemporary missionaries? A cursory reading of the text reveals an unchanging core of requirements in the shockingly drastic suggestions of the concise and riveting message of Jesus. He leaves no wiggling room (except where the radical requirements cannot be taken literally). He allows no options. There is no debate. Christ must be put above everyone and everything else (Col 1:16-18). He must be obeyed (Luke 6:46).

1. Disturbing challenge. The Lord confronts self-confidence, overturns self-indulgence, and shatters self-sufficiency. Faced with these demands, the missionary feels powerless. And, even when the radical expressions are placed in their contexts, they are still disturbing. There is always the temptation to diminish their relevance, to decrease their importance. One can kill their intensity through endless exegesis. Or, as it has often happened, one can reduce their rigors by assigning them to certain groups, such as monastic orders, which relieves the masses of their responsibility. Though the interpretation of these extreme demands is not always literal, they cannot be set aside as simply pious daydreaming.

When the situation warrants it, missionaries must risk their lives. When circumstances require it, they must share their material possessions, must forgive their oppressors, and must walk humbly among the proud. Of course, the committed will constantly fail (though they must not declare the undertaking impossible nor assign the responsibility to someone else). Instead, missionaries will suffer the tension and reproach associated with the challenge of their calling. Rather than alleviate the pain through clever interpretation, rather than relegate the task to others, ambassadors of the gospel will take seriously the radical demands of their Lord (in spite of the disturbance these requirements bring). Missionaries accept being challenged beyond their capability, troubled by their failures in trying to do the difficult, but they are happy that it ignites their faith to anticipate the fullness of the kingdom, to dream of heaven where these extreme commitments will be a way of life.

2. Deliberate acceptance. The motive for accepting the extravagant demands of Jesus revolves around the coming of the kingdom. The sovereignty of God calls for radical change—conversion (Mark 1:14–15). The reign of God overturns established norms, traditional structures, and past behavior. A new lifestyle, a comprehensive reorientation of values, is required. When these demands are detached from the kingdom, they slide into rigid legalism. When stripped of the kingdom connection, they become misguided humility that has no place in missionary service (Col. 2:20–23).

The motive for living these radical requirements is threefold. First, they are a stepping stone to being with him (Mark 3:14; 5:18). To walk with him, to be his disciple, means sharing his mission, accepting his fate. Thus, we leave family and face opposition to be “worthy” of him (Matt 10:37–38), to be his disciple (Luke 14:26–27; 33). Second, these extravagant demands are the way of being godly. In other words, the reason to love others, especially those who do not love us, is to become like God (Matt 5:45). We are called to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). This “perfection” or maturity is unconditional love, namely, sacrificing oneself for the good of others. By behaving in this way, the follower of Christ “lives in God and God [lives] in him” (1 John 4:7–11, 16b).

Third, these outrageous requirements are an avenue of blessing. The missionary accepts the difficult conduct required by Jesus with good reason. In announcing the extraordinary demands, the Lord mentioned what—at first glance—might appear to be a self-seeking motive. Such attitudes and behaviors are the conditions for having treasures in heaven (Matt 19:21), obtaining life (Mark 9:43), or entering the kingdom (Mark 9:47). Everything surrendered for Jesus’ sake will be restored a hundred times over (Mark 10:30). Deeds done in secret will be rewarded openly (Matt 6:6). Therefore, the messenger of God becomes a servant, shares with the poor, avoids anger, does not judge (or condemn), endures violence, and loves his enemies because rewards accompany such conduct. In other words, silhouetted behind these challenging demands is the golden rule: “do unto others what you would have others do unto you” (Matt 7:12). Clearly, such attitudes and behaviors have their compensation (Luke 6:38).

Radical living is not the commitment of a select few, elite saints huddled in a secluded community off the beaten path. The extraordinary demands of Jesus are addressed to all who believe. Taken as a whole, situated in their proper context, and correctly understood, these outrageous requirements are not—in the first century or in the twenty-first century—the responsibility of any particular group. They involve all who claim Jesus as their Lord. If missionaries had been more attentive to this fact in the past, if they were more attentive to it today, the aroma of Christianity would be compelling and the mission of God would be nearer to what he wanted it to be.

After attending Abilene Christian University and Fuller Theological Seminary, Ed Mathews received his Doctor of Missiology in 1980. He taught missions for thirty-eight years at Abilene Christian University. He was chairman of the Department of Missions for twelve of those years. During his tenure, he taught various missions courses: Theology of Mission, World Religions, Ethnotheology, History of Missions, Missionary Research, and Leadership Training by Extension. He retired in 2008. Ed continues to live in Abilene, Texas. He uses his time to write on missions, teach a Bible class on Sunday morning, and chair the mission committee at a local congregation.

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Review of Gary A. Haugen, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. Kindle ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 385 pp. $9.99.

This book made me extremely angry. I seethed with righteous indignation for the entire first half of the volume. Gary Haugen is the founder of International Justice Mission, an international human rights agency that provides service to “impoverished victims of violent abuse and oppression in the developing world” (Kindle locs. 149–51). His book begins with several gut-wrenching illustrations of injustice in the majority world. From Yuri, the small Peruvian child who was raped and left bloodied in the street while her assailants paid off the court and went scot-free, to the Indian family enslaved by a small debt who, children and all, break up large rocks into gravel while their debt gets larger year after year and who are beaten near to death by the police if they try to escape.

With emphasis given to sex trafficking, enslavement, the poor being forced off their land, the prevalence of violence, human rights, and the incompetency of the police and the courts, the central thesis of this book is that unless we intentionally focus on criminal injustice, our efforts to ease or eradicate poverty will be unsuccessful—“endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor” (Kindle locs. 138–39).

I will admit that though I have spent many years of my life living in the majority world, and an equal number of years directing holistic ministry efforts among the world’s poor, I had not made the link between ongoing crushing poverty and criminal injustice. The agency with which I work has successful ministries in digging wells and providing clean water, preventative medicine, health clinics, child sponsorship, microfinance, church planting, ministerial training—the sorts of things many are involved with. But we have never had ministries to better equip or train the police, to provide scholarships or books to lawyers and judges, or to publicly confront the structural sins of the justice systems where we work. Without changing the criminal justice system, all of our well-intentioned efforts can be completely wiped out, like when a plague of locusts sweeps through. The buzzwords—development, empowerment, sustainability—mean little if there is not an underlying foundation of justice.

It is only in the second half of the book, when Haugen and Boutros begin to share some actual case studies of efforts to address injustice, that I began to see the faintest glimmer of hope. With a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sex trafficking was greatly reduced in Cebu City, Philippines. “But,” as the authors state, “there is no silver bullet.” An old Indian man who had devoted his life to studying the law, when asked why the police and the court systems don’t provide justice for the common person, said they were not designed for that. They were established during colonial times and were designed to protect the wealthy and the country’s resources for the elite, not to provide justice for the poor. Indeed, affecting change will be like emptying an Olympic-sized swimming pool one cup at a time.

Over a century ago the police forces in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Tokyo were completely corrupt. Today they are not. The value of The Locust Effect is highlighting an issue and raising consciousness. Do not neglect this book. The more who are aware, the more will be called to do something.

Doug Priest

Executive Director

CMF International

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Review of Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, with Anthony Parker, 2nd ed.

Gailyn Van Rheenen. Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies. With Anthony Parker. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 512 pp. Hardcover. $26.47.

In the new edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, Gailyn Van Rheenen, with Anthony Parker, significantly broadens Van Rheenen’s first edition. By examining the expansive theological underpinnings of missio Dei, as well as current strategic missionary methods, Van Rheenen allows the practice of mission to grow out of God’s call to missions, into a transformational knowledge of practical ministry.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters, beginning with the overarching metanarrative of missio Dei in the Bible. Since this is a massive undertaking, I expected only a cursory nod to the biblical perspective on missions. However, the writers do an excellent job of bringing the central theme of the missionary story of God into focus in the first few chapters. Van Rheenen and Parker have drawn upon their numerous years of both academic and field experience to present the biblical foundations of mission.

Following the historical section are three chapters that stress the motive or “heart allegiance” for being a missionary and various types of missionaries, followed by the cycle of being a missionary. These chapters’ practical nature makes them valuable to the reader interested in becoming a missionary. Pre-departure through reentry time periods are surveyed. Because preparation and in-depth training is so vital to the success of long-term service, even prefield educational classes are suggested.

Readers should appreciate Van Rheenen’s efforts to communicate the nature of mission in the history of the church. The God who made covenant with the people of Israel, making them a light to the nations, is the same God who inspires missionaries today to stand up to injustice and spread the faith around the globe. Human history—and mission history—is a story of “people in relationship to God.”

It’s all about relationships! Another theme of the book is the need for culturally sensitive eyes as we approach cross-cultural missions. Foci on cultural awareness, living incarnationally, entering a new culture, learning from those around you, and becoming multicultural place the emphasis right where it needs to be—on the cross-cultural missionary. Although Van Rheenen does not give the missionary recruit all the tools needed to be successful, he does provide tools to begin to work out how to cross cultural boundaries successfully.

Much has been written about strategies for missions. This book arguably boils strategy down to the essentials and gives models and examples for planting and nurturing churches. The question, “What do I do about the money?” is addressed in a chapter on using money in missions and just may eliminate some of the serious dilemmas that historically have resulted in “division, jealousy, and trauma” on the field. New missionaries, and some old ones too, have a tendency to be naïve about money in initial stages of ministry. This chapter is a great place to start the discussion for making plans prior to reaching the field.

Van Rheenen does not shy away from the controversy associated with short-term missions but instead embraces the debate in chapter eighteen, “The Benefits and Challenges of Short-Term Missions.” He states, “North Americans who minister in a Third World culture are spiritually touched and transformed and begin to see the world with new eyes. The recipients of the missions, however, are frequently impacted in negative, though unintentional, ways” (431). Van Rheenen acknowledges the challenges of short-term missions and encourages people facilitating missions in modern churches to see both short-term and long-term efforts as vital to reaching the whole world.

The book accomplishes its task by including case studies and examples from current scenarios around the world, taking the reader on a journey of discovery in the world of missions. “Jim and Julie” (fictive prospective missionaries) are used to engage the reader and better assist in seeing ourselves in the role of missionary. Each chapter concludes with a “Reflection and Application” section that asks questions related to the chapter’s material, allowing the reader to apply the newly gathered information to her own life and ministry. “The Personal Inventory” portion of this section requires the student to reflect personally on what God is calling her to do with the newly gleaned material.

Van Rheenen’s highly revised book makes a fresh contribution to the education and preparation of prospective missionaries and new believers alike. This book could easily serve as an excellent resource or textbook for an introductory college course on missions, or for a congregation considering mission and cross-cultural engagements. By forming the conceptual framework for missions in theology and practice, this book helps the reader see herself in God’s call.

Linda Whitmer

Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies

Johnson University

Knoxville, Tennessee

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Review of Scott W. Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory

Scott W. Sunquist. Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. 448 pp. Hardcover. $21.48.

Fuller Theological Seminary has a long history of leadership in the global mission movement, and the recent contribution of the dean of the School of Intercultural Studies furthers that reputation. Scott Sunquist, dean since 2012, provides a comprehensive, balanced, and fresh introduction to world missions with his recently published book, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. The weighty (448 page) volume is intended to serve as an introductory textbook, and would be most suitable for upper-level undergraduate or introductory graduate-level studies. It has been particularly well received in the missiological discipline.1

Several aspects of Sunquist’s personal background find expression in his writing. First, he is an academically accomplished historian, with earned degrees from Gordon-Conwell (MDiv) and Princeton (PhD) and a combined total of 27 years as professor of church and missions history at Trinity Theological College (Singapore), Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and now Fuller. He is author of several books, most notably the (to date) two-volume History of the World Christian Movement, coauthored with Dale Irvin.2 As a result, Understanding Christian Mission is replete with historical perspective and a wealth of footnotes that reveal a familiarity with primary sources and wide exposure to current literature, both academic and popular. Second, Sunquist is an ordained pastor of the Presbyterian Church (USA) whose personal theological leanings are also shaped significantly by Pentecostal pneumatology and Eastern Orthodox spirituality.3 The volume is richly theological throughout, bringing Orthodox and “Spiritual” (to use Sunquist’s term) correctives to an ecumenical Protestant perspective. Within that mix, he also values the contributions of Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism, so that the volume at times feels like a round-table conversation. Third, Sunquist is a missionary and evangelist at heart, having served in Singapore for eight years and with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship for six years. Thus, while the pragmatic contributions of his book take a tertiary position behind history and theology, he still writes with the added flair of first-hand experience and with conviction of the essentiality of active evangelism.

Understanding Christian Mission is organized into three parts: History, Theology, and Practical Issues. Thus he follows the tripartite structure that has become standard in missiological introductions of recent years4 but alters the standard order, giving history the primary place before theology. This is not a denigration of theology but rather an admission that constructive theology relies upon a clear perception of our current historical situation. The entire volume—all three sections—ends up being quite pointedly theological, as the book’s thesis demonstrates: “Mission is from the heart of God, to each context, and it is carried out in suffering in this world for God’s eternal glory” (xii). The Preface expands on this thesis, illuminating the all-important interplay of suffering and glory that Sunquist traces throughout the volume. The Introduction is substantive (21 pages) and helpful but somewhat disjointed, covering the history of the discipline of missiology, the varied definitions of mission, and nine “contextual concerns” that shape the current missiological discussion.

Part 1 covers mission history in five chapters. Ancient and Medieval Mission surprisingly skips over the New Testament era to focus on the monastic movements of the fourth through fifteenth centuries. Colonial Missions, Part 1, covers the global expansion of Roman Catholicism. Colonial Missions, Part 2, fills a common lacuna with its presentation of early Catholic and Protestant missions to the ancient Christian peoples of the Near East, then presents an overview of missions to the First Nations of North America. Chapters 4 and 5 are an overview of Western Missions (1842–1948) and Postcolonial Missiologies (1948 to present), with significant emphasis on the changing missional thrust of the conciliar movements (Edinburgh, IMC, WCC, Lausanne, etc.). In each phase of history, Sunquist focuses on the “issues” that shaped missiological thought and practice: slavery, colonialism, confrontation with other religions, the role of women, unity in mission, secular theologies, and the rise of Pentecostalism, just to name a few. These “issue” discussions are elucidating and well chosen, but due to the breadth of coverage the factual historical overview is at times quite brief. The historically minded missions professor will want to provide supplemental material for his or her students.

Part 2 is the theological heart of the volume, presenting mission as flowing from the Triune God. Chapter 6, “Creator God as the Sending Father,” may be described as a well-worded restatement of storied theology in a missional hermeneutic, such as has become common fare in the vein of Chris Wright’s landmark work.5 Chapter 7, “Jesus, Sent as the Suffering and Sacrificing Son,” is a particularly well-rounded presentation of the centrality of Christ in Old Testament expectations, Gospel stories, early church experience, and eschatological fulfillment, with clear extrapolations for missions (most notably the nature of the gospel and the crucial role of suffering). In light of the faith malaise that confronts today’s university and seminary students, this chapter is especially appreciated. Chapter 8, “Holy Spirit in Mission,” is less impressive. The discussion of the Holy Spirit is generally helpful, but only occupies 13 pages before the attention turns completely to the missiological concepts of culture and contextualization for 26 pages. The rather tenuous connection is that the Holy Spirit works in all cultures. In the end, neither pneumatology nor culture theory is presented with the richness it deserves.

Sunquist describes Part 3 alternatively as an ecclesiology and as pragmatic issues facing mission today. It is some of each. Chapter 9 is indeed a very good ecclesiology, centering the church’s dual raison d’être in worship and witness. Chapter 10 then zooms in on witness, defining the church’s evangelistic role in a way that is biblically broad, evangelically sound, and full of conviction. Sunquist remarks, “There is something to offend pretty much everyone in this chapter” (315); I, for one, thought it right on target. Chapter 11 is less provocative—a basic introduction to the urban challenge such as one might get if Conn and Ortiz’s tome were boiled down to a concentrate.6 Chapter 12, on partnership, is particularly disappointing. Sunquist seems hardly to be aware of the significant dependency issues that are still propagated in the name of partnership, or at least does nothing to help students of mission become aware of them.7 The final chapter, on spirituality, is a superbly fitting conclusion, tying history, theology, and ecclesiology into one personally motivating package, taking a page from Bosch’s Spirituality of the Road.8

Helps at the end of the book include an appendix chart of twentieth-century ecumenical councils, an extensive bibliography organized topically, and scriptural and topical indexes.

The above summary highlights several of the strengths of the volume: a strongly theological approach, a thought-provoking historical analysis, and bold and faithful chapters on Christology, ecclesiology, evangelism, and spirituality. Another laudable characteristic of Sunquist’s writing is his ability to introduce major movements of Christianity in terms apprehensible to students. For example, his brief but well-placed introductions to the dispensationalism of J. N. Darby (110–11), Pentecostalism and A. B. Simpson (128), Hoekendijk and the Social Gospel (140–42), and the emergence of evangelicalism (159–61) help bring students up to speed without veering off topic. In general, Sunquist is to be commended for staying focused on mission thought while drawing perspective from a wide swath of religious and secular history.

Teachers of mission face a choice of approaches for an introductory missions course. Sunquist’s strengths and weaknesses can best be seen in comparison with other text options.9 One widely used text is Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions.10 While Sunquist offers a much broader introduction to mission than Tucker, the motivational and personal element that comes from reading stories of missionaries past is one of the most significant holes in Sunquist’s history.11 Consequently, a pairing of Sunquist and Tucker would be most welcome for students. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, offers a much more strategic, how-to approach;12 Sunquist does not touch such practical aspects as worldview, culture shock, sustainability, church planting strategies, or reentry. Anthropology, long a staple component of missiology, gets barely a second glance. Students preparing for a missionary career would do well to start with Sunquist as a foundation for strategic training in the vein of Van Rheenen. And then there’s Bosch. While David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission should not be classified as introductory-level, it shares much in common with Sunquist: historical-theological study of mission, trinitarian rooting of the missio Dei, and concern for evangelical ecumenism. Each of Bosch’s twelve “Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm” finds clear expression in Sunquist (though without Bosch’s clarity of organization). However, a comparison with Part 1 of Bosch—164 pages of biblical exegesis—reveals Sunquist’s final major weakness. The bulk of Sunquist’s theology is systematic rather than biblical.13 Sunquist’s approach avoids Bosch’s neglect of the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit but fails to offer students the richness of insight that comes through exegetical wrestling with the most primary of primary sources: the Holy Scriptures.14

Even with its shortcomings, Understanding Christian Mission stands as one of the most well-rounded introductions to Christian mission today. Teachers of mission would do well to consider it as a key textbook, especially if supplemented as noted above. Moreover, students of any discipline who want a one-volume entrance to the world of missiology will do well to start here. Sunquist is to be thanked for this key contribution; may many take up his call to participate in the suffering and glory of Christ!

Danny Reese


Huambo, Angola

1 Understanding Christian Mission is the recipient of the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award for “Best in Missions/Global Affairs” ( and is highlighted on the list of “Fifteen Outstanding Books of 2013 for Mission Studies,” International Bulletin for Missionary Research 38, no. 2 (April 2014): 101. More acclaim for the book, as well as five video clips of Sunquist’s own thoughts on the volume, can be found at

2 Dale T. Irvin and Scott Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, 2 vols. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001–2012). Other publications of note are Scott Sunquist, ed., A Dictionary of Asian Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) and Scott Sunquist and Caroline N. Becker, eds., A History of Presbyterian Missions, 1944–2007 (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2008).

3 Sunquist’s interest in Syrian and other Eastern Orthodox perspectives finds expression in his preponderance of quotes from the Philokalia, one of his primary “conversation partners” (18). This perspective, somewhat lacking in most missiological literature, contributes to the freshness of Sunquist’s writing.

4 For example, A. Scott Moreau, Garry R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, Encountering Mission (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004); Craig Ott and Stephen Strauss with Timothy C. Tennent, Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues, Encountering Mission (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010); Zane G. Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeffrey K. Walters, Introduction to Global Missions (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014).

5 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

6 Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

7 He rightly presents partnership as a great necessity of missions today, but only hints at the difficulties through his mention (390) of Jonathan Bonk’s Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem, rev. ed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007). But Bonk deals exclusively with affluence as a personal relational issue for rich missionaries among poor societies; his book does not attempt to address systemic dependency of churches, theological education, short-term missions, etc. For a convincing critique of the failure of the partnership paradigm in light of these difficulties, see Robert Reese, Roots and Remedies of the Dependency Syndrome in World Missions (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2010), esp. 91–99.

8 David J. Bosch, A Spirituality of the Road, Missionary Studies 6 (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1979).

9 Perhaps the most similar option to Sunquist is Timothy Tennent, Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-First Century, Invitation to Theological Studies Series (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010). Both adopt a trinitarian theological foundation, both are somewhat weak in strategic pragmatics, but Sunquist offers a depth of historical insight that surpasses Tennent.

10 Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).

11 William Carey receives a few sentences; David Brainerd gets twelve words; Robert Moffat, Mary Slessor, Brother Andrew, and Jim Elliot receive not even a mention.

12 Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, with Anthony Parker, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

13 The key exceptions are the four “windows” into Jesus’ mission, brief exegetical studies taken from the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation (221–25).

14 One danger of Sunquist’s style of systematic theology is the easy intermingling of Scripture with other sources. For example, in his 13-page exposition of the Holy Spirit’s role in mission, Sunquist quotes ancient and medieval theologians almost as often (9 times) as he quotes Scripture (11 times), effortlessly elevating their writings to similar authoritative heights—a subtle move that students may not be able to perceive or evaluate.

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Review of Zane Pratt, Jeff K. Walters, and M. David Sills, Introduction to Global Missions

ZANE PRATT, M. DAVID SILLS, AND JEFF K. WALTERS. Introduction to Global Missions. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014. 280 pp. $34.99.

Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff Walters offer a new introductory text for undergraduate and seminary students on the nature and challenges of global missions. Introduction to Global Missions contains minimal footnotes and concise definitions of important nomenclature as it builds a cumulative case for missions, especially to underserved and unreached people groups. Divided into four sections, the book explores biblical and theological foundations of missions, the history of global missions, reflections on culture and contextualization, and missions practices, particularly emphasizing church planting and discipleship.

The volume initially appears to be a welcome contribution for the conundrum of many introductory courses in missions: the choice between the standard, highly technical works (few of which garner even a mention in this book) or texts so basic, so introductory, that they serve students little, if at all. Written by three experienced practitioner-scholars with previously published material in the field, this volume looked to fill the gap in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, Introduction to Global Missions ultimately disappoints with its narrow theological vision, often dated and clunky syntax, and unnecessary caricatures of those outside the evangelical fold.

From the outset it is an echo chamber of mutual affirmation. The book is written by three men who currently or previously were colleagues at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, published by B&H Academic (an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Christian Resources), and endorsed almost exclusively by Southern Baptists. A more forthcoming title would have been Introduction to Southern Baptist Global Missions. The text becomes increasingly narrow in its perspective and application as it progresses. It is not only lacking in the use of gender-inclusive language, due undoubtedly to the explicit complementarian perspective of the book, but there is no mention of women serving in any form of missions outside of the preface (vii) and a brief nod to Lottie Moon and Amy Carmichael (124). Throughout the volume, when the authors say “Christian” what they really mean is evangelical Christian. This form of “orthodox evangelical theology” consists of specific theological particularities including: Adam and Eve were historical persons (71), a calvinistic orientation on the sovereignty of God (73–74), biblical inerrancy (75, 211), original sin (76), eternal conscious torment in hell which will include the unreached (77, 83–88), strictly complementarian roles in regard to the office of pastor/elder/overseer (211), and yet a deafening silence and openness on specific eschatological interpretations (90–91) and other theological positions not central to the SBC tribe. This is most clearly seen in the description of an “unreached” people group as a population “in which less than 2% of the population is Evangelical Christians” (29, emphasis added).

Written in language like a popular-level work, this title would be inappropriate as a seminary-level textbook. This is made clear by the explicit identification of recent high school graduates as the readers of the text (149). Ironically, one of the most succinct and insightful sections of the volume, which discusses the challenges of culture shock and language acquisition, was excerpted from another work by M. David Sills (224–31). This unit merely serves to highlight the quality with which this entire text could have been written but was ultimately unable to accomplish.

Introduction to Global Missions also employs caricature to distinguish itself from other parts of the Christian tradition with which it has sometimes significant difference. This includes assumptions about issues like hermeneutics:

The fact that unregenerate men and women are capable of reading contradictory messages into the text of Scripture is no reason to despair of the ability of believers, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to discern the meaning of the Scripture clearly. Many methods of popular Bible study do indeed lead to wildly divergent interpretations of the text, but such methods often have little to do with what the text actually says in its context, and responsible exegesis leads to remarkably consistent results. (75)

There is also an immense minimization (less than a page covering the first five centuries after the New Testament) and caricaturing of Roman Catholic missions history:

Whether in the new world or in Asia, the lasting legacy of Roman Catholic missions was often a syncretistic mix of Catholic Christianity and animistic religions. Forced conversions, cultural differences, and poor methods of contextualization left many “converts” continuing to worship their old gods but with different names. Churches replaced shrines and saints replaced pagan gods, but only on the outside. Roman Catholic missions opened the world to Christianity, but later missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, faced great difficulty in unraveling the mix left behind by the early conquering churches. (106)

This prejudice is heightened by the entirety of the sixth chapter, which reflects only the positive contributions of “healthy missions,” a designation used numerous times in surveying the expansion of the Christian faith in “the Great Century and beyond” (115).

Lacking in overall depth and scope, Introduction to Global Mission fails to engage the contributions of many important scholars and practitioners or the larger Christian tradition generally. It provides the reader with no acknowledgement of any positive developments in missiology outside of Protestantism and recognizes no developments or documents to be as important as the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and the Baptist Faith and Message, with an occasional nod to other evangelical organizations like the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

Ultimately, this text will be helpful to those wishing to create an introductory course in missions for conservative evangelical undergraduate students who theologically resemble the Southern Baptist Convention. Those looking for an introductory text outside of this slice of evangelicalism would do well to look elsewhere.

Michael Hanegan


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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Reinhabiting the River of Life (Rev 22:1-2): Rehydration, Redemption and Watershed Discipleship

Water lies at the center of our Christian sign of baptism and our current ecological crises and, thus, deserves deeper theological treatment. This paper explores visions of “redemption as rehydration” in the prophetic literature, then it traces resonant themes into the Apocalypse’s “river of the water of life” (Rev 22:1). It next explores how water provides a “metaphorical map of God” and why hydrologic systems should be a key characteristic of how humans dwell in creation. The paper concludes with a call to watershed-based discipleship as a faithful response to Christian mission amidst our looming environmental catastrophes..

“El agua es la vida!” –New Mexican proverb

“The health of our waters is the principle measure of how we live on the land.” –Luna Leopold

The ancient Christian ritual of baptism articulates an ecological fact: without water there can be no life. We rightly speak of baptismal waters as the symbolic source of renewal in Christ—a metaphor predicated in part upon the deep biblical tradition concerning “living waters” I will explore below. Today, however, Christians can no longer responsibly invoke this venerable tradition without also acknowledging the ecological realities of our context, which include the systematic dehydration of the earth by industrial civilization.

Deepening and interlocking environmental crises stalk our history, including climate destruction, species extinction, and declining natural fertility. Among these, one of the most pressing is “peak water.” Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute describes this as the critical point, already reached in many areas of the world, where we have overtaxed the planet’s ability to absorb the consequences of our water use.1 Its global symptoms include widespread desertification, water insecurity, declining water quality, and the drift toward international water wars.2 The grim specter of peak water represents the dark opposite of baptism; it portends only death. It is a keystone “sign of our times” that reveals afresh the old gospel imperative to “turn around” as an historic ultimatum.

End-game ecological trends press Christians to re-read our tradition from the perspective of the groaning creation, as did Paul in Romans 8:21–22—including and especially our theology and practices of mission. Water is a strategic place to start. It is the resource we North Americans arguably most take for granted—a privileged and unsustainable conceit that must change. This paper will argue for re-centering faith and mission around “watershed discipleship” as a matter of social justice, ecological sustainability, and theological fidelity. This imperative proceeds both from ancient biblical visions and current realities of water scarcity.

Prophetic Visions of Redemption as Rehydration

The biblical story begins (Gen 1:2) and ends (Rev 22) in a “waterworld.” This represents a primal scriptural expression of basic ecological truth: water is the single most important component in the birth and continuation of life—we might say, the Alpha and Omega of creation. Water thus deserves more careful social, ecological, and theological attention than it has received in our churches.3

The first half of this paper will look at John the Revelator’s extraordinary eschatological vision of social and environmental restoration through a divine “rehydration” of the earth. John was clearly nurtured by a recurring strand in Hebrew prophetic literature, so let me begin by acknowledging this rich “imaginary” of an ancient desert people.4

It remains a well-kept secret in our churches that the tradition of prophetic judgment in the Hebrew Bible articulates divine salvation most often in terms of the renewal—not destruction—of the earth. In Isaiah, for example, the imperial civilizations that surrounded (and oppressed) Israel are indeed promised demolition by divine judgment; the land, however, is rehabilitated through “rewilding,” as undomesticated animals re-inhabit decaying cities (13:19–22) and wild birds roost in abandoned fortresses (34:8–15).5

One expression of redemption as the restoration of creation is found in prophetic visions of eschatological reforestation. Israel’s seers may have understood that the arid climate of their Palestinian homeland was not natural but rather the result of historic processes of desertification due to the relentless imperial economic exploitation of the land. Indeed, ecological archaeology has established that the ancient Mediterranean world was largely deforested by the time of the eighth-century prophets.6 This may explain their rage over the clear-cutting of highland hardwood forests (Zech 11:1ff.; Isa 14:3–8, 37:22–24; Solomon was also guilty: 1 Kgs 5:6ff.). They longed for Yahweh’s judgment that would save the threatened forests: “The cypresses exult over you, the cedars of Lebanon,” Isaiah inveighs against the king of Babylon, “saying, ‘Since you were laid low, no one comes to cut us down’ ” (Isa 14:8).7

The most well-known example of this motif is found in Isaiah 35, which begins with the promise that parched lands will once again host “the glory of Lebanon” (Isa 35:1ff.; i.e., the great cedar forests of the north). The poem goes on to promise not only an end to human physical disabilities (35:3–6a) but the healing of creation itself:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (35:6b–7)

Restored habitat brings the return of wild animals (see also Isa 43:20). And all this renewal is made possible because water is flowing again everywhere.

Second Isaiah echoes the idea that both people (especially those marginalized by empire) and forests will be restored:

When the poor and needy seek water,

and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst,

I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.

I will open rivers on the bare heights,

and fountains in the midst of the valleys;

I will make the wilderness a pool of water,

and the dry land springs of water.

I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;

I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together. (Isa 41:17–19.)

Just as Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the old Exodus story (Exod 14), here the travails of empire similarly disappear under water.

The promise of rehydration recurs in the proto-apocalyptic oracles of several later Israelite prophets. Joel prophesies that “all the watercourses of Judah shall flow with water, and a spring shall issue from the House of the Lord and shall water the Wadi of the Acacias” (Joel 4:18; njps). Zechariah portends: “In that day, fresh water shall flow from Jerusalem, part of it to the Eastern Sea and part to the Western Sea, throughout the summer and winter” (Zech 14:8; njps). But the most elaborate development of this motif is found in Ezek 47:1–12, the culmination of his lengthy description of eschatological Israel, its land and temple-city (Ezek 40–48).

The first part of the oracle narrates in refrain how water is flowing out of the temple toward the four directions (47:1–2). Then comes another refrain in which the rising tide is measured, from ankle, to knee, to waist-deep, to “a river that could not be crossed” (47:3–5). Implied here is the rehabilitation of the Gihon spring that (inconsistently) supplied water to Jerusalem.8 Ezekiel then imagines Palestine “greened” all the way to the Dead Sea (47:6–12). But unlike the flood of Genesis 7, Ezekiel’s surging river is life-giving, indicated by the explosion of fecundity that occurs within and beside it: “everything will live where the river goes” (v. 9).9 The vision culminates with an ever-bearing, perennial riparian forest, providing food and medicine (v. 12). This nod to the Garden of Eden story is later re-appropriated by John the Revelator, effectively bracketing (like the waterworld image) the biblical story.

Israel during the biblical period was a dry place indeed, with only a couple of major rivers, few perennial streams, and unreliable springs. So these extraordinary visions of redemption as rehydration bear witness to the fact that in Palestine, water lay at the heart of environmental sustainability, social justice, and divine concern.10

The River of the Water of Life

John of Patmos’s “river of the water of life” (Rev 22:1ff.) is patterned in part on Ezek 47. A careful examination of this image reveals a rich theological and ecological texture. First and foremost, this eschatological river stands in stark contrast to the realities of John’s late first-century CE readers. Those living in arid Mediterranean climate were familiar chiefly with the stagnant, torpid water found in small ponds, seasonal wells, catchment tanks, ritual baths, or clay pots. Domestic water quality was often poor (hence the advice of 1 Tim 5:23). John’s river, however, “shines like crystal” (lampron hōs krustallon; Rev 22:1; cf. 4:6). This is not a supernatural assertion but a poetic observation: pure water indeed appears crystalline when it is flowing freely (think of the dancing silver strands of a mountain stream). The phrase “river of the water of life” (potamon hudatos zoēs) connotes exactly that: the running, bubbling, lively water of a spring or brook.11 Experiences of such “living water,” as the Gospel of John puts it (hudōr zōn; John 4:10; 7:38), were rare indeed for this desert people. This signals a dramatic restoration of life to the land and those dwelling on it, just as the Hebrew prophets had envisioned.

John’s river, moreover, flows through “the middle of the great street of the city” (Rev 22:2; niv). The Greek term plateia connotes the main thoroughfare (or plaza) of a Hellenistic metropolis. Poignantly, earlier in the Apocalypse this plateia was the space of political violence, where the bodies of two prophets murdered by the imperial beast lay in public view for three and a half days as a spectacle of state terror (Rev 11:8–9). But now this street has become “pure gold, transparent as glass” (Rev 21:21).12 The New Jerusalem’s main street has dissolved into a river of life that washes away the blood of empire.13

There is another way in which this river symbolizes liberation from empire. Elsewhere in Revelation the water of life is depicted as a spring (pēgē). The martyrs who live “before the throne of God . . . will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them; for the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water” (zoēs pēgas hudatōn; Rev 7:15–17; author’s translation). This is a pointed recontextualization of Isa 49:10, an oracle of emancipation. Moreover, this spring is a “gift” (Rev 21:6; tēs pēgēs tou hudatos tēs zoēs dōrean); “Let the one who thirsts come forward, and . . . receive the gift of living water” (22:17; hudōr zoēs dōrean; author’s translation). Here is more midrash on the subversive vision of second Isaiah—“All who are thirsty, come for water, even if you have no money” (Isa 55:1; njps)—which was a rebuke of the currency-dependent commodity markets of empire and a reassertion of the gift economy of nature.14

Yet, these living waters are not springing up from the ground, but “proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1; nkjv). This primal notion of Yhwh as a cosmic fount, too, is found in several places in the Hebrew Bible. “For with You is the spring of life,” sings the Psalmist (Ps 36:9; MT, mĕqôr ḥayîym; LXX, pēgē zoēs). And Jeremiah laments:

My people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken Me,

the fountain of living water (MT, mĕqôr mayim ḥayîym; LXX, pēgēn hudatos zoēs)

and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns that can hold no water (Jer 2:13).15

Lastly, as in Ezekiel 47, John’s freely and abundantly flowing river provides habitat for the tree of life, which yields spectacular fruits each month (Rev 22:2). Its twelve crops correspond to the central symbolic number of the Apocalypse (in which dōdeka appears 20 times). This figure also represents the restored nation of Israel, hearkening back to its roots in the tribal confederacy (a theme also explicitly addressed in Ezek 47:13–48:35). But for John of Patmos, this is an inclusive political vision. As in Ezekiel, the leaves of the tree are for healing, but here specifically for the nations, including presumably the “kings of the earth” who have been welcomed into the city (Rev 21:24). Even empire is healed in the end—but only when eclipsed by the ecology of life.

The Revelator has cosmically “transplanted” both tree and river from the primeval garden (Gen 2:9ff.) into the heart of the eschatological city. But the former has transfigured the latter: it is unrecognizable as an urban space—at least as defined by our civilization, which builds cities over and against nature. The New Jerusalem has been thoroughly “permaculturized,” a lush food forest taking the place of the hard urban jungle. And all because the world has been resaturated with the waters of life.

These prophetic visions represent profound articulations of social and environmental restorative justice from a people for whom dehydration was a daily reality. They speak equally sharply to today, in which our lands are again parched and compromised by imperial hubris. Hostage as we are to the specter of “peak water” and resource wars, we would do well to reconsider such old wisdom.

God’s Map: Theology and Geography

In a society characterized by (and dependent upon) the relentless commodification and privatization of the primary gift of life, how might we embrace the radical and compelling biblical hope that every thirst will be quenched? The task facing us is both theological and practical.

If all talk about God is necessarily metaphorical, then surely water is a primary theological trope, as suggested by the frequent biblical imagery identifying water tightly with the divine. Four essential characteristics of water certainly pertain also to the Creator.

First and foremost, as noted, there can be no life without water. It is the primary building block of creation, covering 71% of the earth’s surface and constituting on average 60% of the human body. It restores but cannot be destroyed—though if it is degraded it can lose its healing character.

Second, water is the only natural element that can exist in all three common states: liquid, solid, and gaseous. Moreover, in the hydrologic cycle it circulates from the heavens (condensation, precipitation) to earth and beneath (infiltration), to the sea and other large bodies of water (surface runoff, groundwater discharge), and finally back to the heavens (evaporation). These many forms represent a great circle of life—which one might argue also characterizes the circulation of the Spirit.16

Third, water manifests a spectrum of traits often attributed to the divine. It can be patient and accommodating, flowing around obstacles, yet also has the power to wear down the greatest physical structures (or burst them apart through expanding ice). Water makes hard things smooth over time; it is also an amazing solvent and thus is rightly used in purification. It can be still and gentle but also relentless and ferocious. Surface water has the capacity to carry but also to drown—immersion can lead either to life or to death (the Bible is full of examples of both).

Finally, water is a symbol of justice. It is most substantial and alive when fluid, but can turn morbid if stagnant. It wants to flow downward, seeking level, a poignant metaphor of divine concern for the “lowest.” Thus Amos famously appeals for “justice to flow down like a perennial stream” (Amos 5:24; author’s translation).17

Water thus provides a kind of metaphorical “map of God.” Conversely, it also figures fundamentally in God’s map of creation. To illustrate this, compare the two photographs below.

Above is an aerial photograph of the San Rafael Swell on the Colorado Plateau in Utah.18 It shows clearly that even in the most arid climate on the continent, the single most distinctive and defining feature is the way water flows. A theological reading of this universal geographical truism would conclude that water patterns are the chief design features of a creation that has not been re-engineered by human society.

In contrast, the image below is an aerial view of nearby Las Vegas, NV, whose patterns are typical of modern urban sprawl.19 What is evident from such an (over)built environment is not where water flows—that is almost impossible to discern—but rather where automobile traffic flows. It is virtually all artifice.

The profound differences between these two design patterns capture the essence of what is ecologically unsustainable about industrial civilization. If our defiance of nature (represented by the second image) has brought us to the brink of collapse, then a radical response is called for—that is, one that goes to the roots of how the earth was/is made (represented by the first image). We have lost our way as creatures of God’s biosphere, and only the map that is woven into creation can lead us home. That map is defined by water.

John Wesley Powell, the first non-native person to raft successfully down the Colorado River in the 1860s, gave us our first modern definition of a watershed:

It is that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of the community.20

The fact is, wherever we reside—city, suburb, or rural area—our lives are deeply intertwined within such a “bounded hydrologic system.” Precipitation hits the ridges and either flows into our watershed or into a neighboring one, drained by a watercourse and its tributaries (even if buried under concrete).

The area covered in the water’s journey from its origination in the natural hydrological cycle to its end point in a particular body of water such as a pond, lake, or ocean is the watershed. Each one is made up of a unique mix of habitats that influence each other, including forests, wetlands, fields and meadows, rivers and lakes, farms and towns. The 2,110 watersheds in the continental US come in all sizes. The Mississippi Basin is the 3rd largest watershed in the world, draining 41% of the lower 48 states into the Gulf of Mexico. The Ventura River watershed where I live is a scant 227 square miles.

All life is watershed-placed without exception—and our ignorance about this fact is disastrous. Brock Dolman, a permaculturist and founder of Occidental Art and Ecology Center in Northern California, argues that “watersheds underlie all human endeavors and form the foundation for all future aspirations and survival.” Cupping his hands, he invokes the metaphor of a cradle, which he calls a “Basin of Relations,” in which every living organism is interconnected and dependent on the health of the whole. This form of “social, local, intentional community with other life forms and inanimate processes, like the fire cycle and the hydrological cycle,” he says, represents “the geographic scale of applied sustainability, which must be regenerative, because we desperately are in need of making up for lost time.”21

Watershed mapping is a practical tool for advancing our literacy in the actual landscapes that sustain us.22 It can help us re-imagine a world beyond maps that are social re-productions enshrining problematic historical legacies of colonization and exploitation, while rendering nature secondary (or altogether invisible). Kirkpatrick Sale’s definition of bioregionalism is helpful here:

Bio is from the Greek word for forms of life . . . and region is from the Latin regere, territory to be ruled. . . . They convey together a life-territory, a place defined by its life forms, its topography and its biota, rather than by human dictates; a region governed by nature, not legislature. And if the concept initially strikes us as strange, that may perhaps only be a measure of how distant we have become from the wisdom it conveys.23

Below is a recent watershed map of the US imagined by John Lavey.24 Political boundaries are often straight (no continental US state is without one), while watershed ones never are. Straight lines are the first order of abstraction, alienating us from the topographical and hydrological realities that sustain life. How might our political culture change if our most basic unit of governance was “nature rather than legislature”?

Toward Watershed Discipleship

In the environmental movement, bioregional thought and practice has spread widely and matured deeply over the last quarter century.25 Yet this school of thought has been almost entirely ignored by Christian theology and ethics until very recently.26 However, I am convinced that a watershed paradigm not only holds the key to our survival as a species; it can also inspire the next great renewal of the church—in light of, not in spite of, the looming ecological endgame.

What would it mean for Christians to center our identity in the topography of creation rather than in the political geography of dominant cultural ideation, grounding our discipleship practices in the watershed in which we reside, within which everything must be engaged in terms of environmental resiliency and social justice?

In our education and organizing at Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries we are proposing “watershed discipleship” as a framing idea, which seems to be resonating widely. The phrase is an intentional triple entendre.

  1. It recognizes that we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis, which demands that environmental, social justice, and sustainability be integral to everything we do as Christians and as citizen inhabitants of specific places.
  2. It acknowledges the inescapably bioregional locus of an incarnational following of Jesus: our discipleship and the life of the local church necessarily take place in a watershed context.
  3. It suggests that we need to be disciples of our watersheds. In the New Testament, discipleship is a journey of learning from, following, and coming to trust the “rabbi”—which in this case is the “Book of Creation.” The challenge here, to paraphrase the argument made in 1968 by the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum, is that
    • We won’t save places we don’t love.
    • We can’t love places we don’t know.
    • We don’t know places we haven’t learned.

From the beginning of human history, nothing was more crucial to the survival and flourishing of traditional societies than literacy in and symbiotic relationship with one’s watershed. It remains the case today—but we have a long way to go to reconstruct the intimacy required to know and save our places.

Obviously, understanding contextual Christian mission fundamentally in terms of healing our world by restoring the social and ecological health of our respective watersheds is a perspective still marginal in our churches. Yet, I believe ecclesial communities re-grounded in their watersheds can make an enormous contribution to the wider historic struggle to reverse the looming ecological catastrophe—and in the process, recover the “terrestrial soul” of a faith tradition that too often tends toward docetism.27 Christians are deeply culpable in the present crisis, but we also have ancient resources for the deep shifts needed.

Watershed discipleship is an expression of Christian mission because it seeks to partner with God’s mission of healing. The Apostle Paul claims that creation is “groaning in travail” waiting for the “children of God” to be fully “revealed,” in order that we might partner with the divine work of liberation and healing (Rom 8:19–24a).28 This suggests that our primary human vocation is not to re-engineer creation for exclusive human benefit—an impulse biblically identified with the fall in Genesis.29 Rather, the mission of the church is to help humans rediscover our proper place in, and to work for the healing and preservation of, the community of creation.30

Key to Creator’s ecological and eschatological redemption of creation is the renewing power of the water of life. This is previewed in Christian baptism, which in turn animates our mission to inhabit and incarnate that blessed hope in a thirsty world. Watershed discipleship can and should help define the shape of that mission in this historical moment of crisis.

Ched Myers is an activist theologian who has worked in social change movements for almost 40 years. His books include Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Orbis, [1988]2008) and, most recently, Our God Is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice (with Matthew Colwell; Orbis, 2012). He is a co-founder of the Watershed Discipleship Alliance ( and works with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in southern California ( His publications can be found at


Aberly, Douglas. Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment. Philadelphia: New Society, 1993.

Aboriginal Mapping Network.

Andruss, Van, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright, eds. Home! A Bioregional Reader. Philadelphia: New Society, 1990.

Barlow, Maude. Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. New York: New Press, 2008.

Bell, Alexander. Peak Water: Civilisation and the World’s Water Crisis. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Luath, 2012.

Carr, Mike. Bioregionalism and Civil Society: Democratic Challenges to Corporate Globalism. Sustainability and the Environment Series. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2004.

Chellaney, Brahma. Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Dolman, Brock. Basins of Relations: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watershed. 2nd ed. Occidental, CA: Water Institute, 2008.

Gleick, Peter H., ed. The World’s Water: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources. Vol. 8. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2014.

Hiebert, Theodore. The Yahwist’s Landscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

If Americans Knew. “Water in Palestine.”

Loeffler, Jack, and Celestia Loeffler, eds. Thinking Like a Watershed: Voices from the West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012.

Myers, Ched. “The Cedar Has Fallen! The Prophetic Word vs. Imperial Clear-Cutting.” In Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet, edited by David Rhoads, 211–23. New York: Continuum, 2007.

________. “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice.” Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 3 (Fall 2014): forthcoming.

________. “From Garden to Tower: Genesis 1–11 as a Critique of Civilization and an Invitation to Indigenous Re-Visioning.” In Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinrichs, 109–21. Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 2013.

________. Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994.

National Geographic Education. “Mapping the World’s Watersheds.”

Oosthoek, K. J. W. “The Role of Wood in World History.” Environmental History Resources.

Peppard, Christiana. Just Water: Theology, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2014.

Powell, J. W. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons. New York: Dover, 1961.

Prandoni, Marita. “Know Your Lifeboat: An Interview with Permaculturist Brock Dolman.” Eco Zine. EcoHearth. November 10, 2011.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.

Scott Cato, Mary. The Bioregional Economy: Land, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Snyder, Gary. A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1995.

Thayer, Robert L., ed. Lifeplace: Bioregional Thought and Practice. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.

Woodley, Randy. Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. Prophetic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

1 See Peter H. Gleick, ed., The World’s Water: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources, vol. 8 (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2014); see also Alexander Bell, Peak Water: Civilisation and the World’s Water Crisis, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Luath, 2012);;; and

2 See Brahma Chellaney, Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013); Maude Barlow, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water (New York: New Press, 2008). If present trends continue, it is estimated that 1.8 billion people will be living with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.

3 A recent engagement with this task is Christiana Peppard, Just Water: Theology, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2014).

4 As an adjective, imaginary is typically defined as “not real,” or “existing only in the mind or imagination”; the noun is traditionally a mathematical (or occasionally artistic) term. However, given its etymological roots in the Latin imago, I here use the noun to suggest the poetic ways in which biblical writers envisioned a redeemed creation as a reflection of the imago Dei—far from fictive, these visions meant to portray the transfigured real.

5 Modern American Christian apocalypticism’s blithe tendency to anticipate earth’s demise while the church rides shotgun with contemporary empire thus has the tradition exactly backwards—with sobering political consequences.

6 See e.g. K. J. W. Oosthoek, “The Role of Wood in World History,” Environmental History Resources, In antiquity, the deforestation that resulted from successive Mesopotamian kingdoms figured prominently in the decline of Sumerian civilization, according to Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Penguin, 2005). Deforestation exposed the salt-rich sedimentary rocks of the northern mountains to erosion; the Euphrates, Tigris, and Karun rivers and tributaries began to fill with salt and silt, clogging up the irrigation canals. After 1,500 years of successful farming, a serious salinity problem suddenly developed; declining food production resulted, signaling the beginning of the end for Sumerian civilization.

7 Scripture quotations are from the NRSV unless noted otherwise. For an ecological, political, and theological exploration of this theme, see my “The Cedar Has Fallen! The Prophetic Word vs. Imperial Clear-Cutting,” in Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet, ed. David Rhoads (New York: Continuum, 2007).

8 Theodore Hiebert, The Yahwist’s Landscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 53–58, notes that Gihon is one of the four rivers of the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:13), and shows how the biblical literature often seems to identify Eden with the primeval Jordan Valley, before desertification, whose restoration was longed for.

9 Interestingly, this rehydration of the valley includes an “ecological” reserve of brackish swamps: “But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt” (47:11).

10 This of course remains true today; on the politics of water in contemporary Israel/Palestine see, e.g., If Americans Knew, “Water in Palestine,”

11 In Gen 26:19 the Hebrew ḥay, which normally connotes “living” (often in terms of breath, as in the creation story), is used to describe a spring discovered by Isaac’s people while digging in a wadi, which provides living water, as opposed to stagnant or “dead water” (as an Arabic phrase puts it). Similarly, Jas 3:12 contrasts “sweet” spring water with that which is “bitter” or “salty.” The pejorative phrase “waterless springs” (2 Pet 2:17) suggests that such disappointment was common.

12 See also 15:2. “Glasslikeness” (hualinos) has already been identified by John with water: God’s throne is perched upon “a sea of glass like crystal” (hōs thalassa hualinē homoia krustallō, 4:6; cf. 21:11, 18). In the NT, hualos/hualinos, and krustallos/krustallizō appear only in Revelation, but may imply the older meaning of “ice” (as in Homer and Herodotus).

13 Not to mention the raw sewage that would typically have run down the gutters of an ancient plateia.

14 This is echoed in John’s depiction of how precious stones and metals become as common as cobblestones in the New Jerusalem (21:11, 18–21); here the ecology of grace has triumphed over Rome’s predatory trade in those very same resources (18:12).

15 Note the irony: Judeans are abandoning fresh streams for the stagnant waters of leaky catchments (see also Jer 17:13). This biblical vocabulary is also linked to fertility: mĕqôr can be a euphemism for a “fount” of descendants (e.g. Ps 68:27; Prov 5:18; Isa 48:1), and “living waters” (mayim ḥayîym) is a euphemism for a woman’s sex (Song 4:15).

16 To push the analogy, the molecular structure of H2O could even be characterized as trinitarian: one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, connected by covalent bonds (the stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons) represents an elegant and unique model of balance and relationality.

17 The Hebrew êtān when used in conjunction with water connotes a never-failing flow (see Deut 21:4). The seventh month is called “Ethanim”—the season of continual water (1 Kgs 8:2). Ps 74:15 praises Yhwh as the one who “releases springs and streams, and who makes perennial rivers run dry” (author’s translation).

18 Image from Google Earth.

19 Image from Google Earth.

20 J. W. Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons (New York: Dover, 1961). In 1879, Powell proposed that as new states in the American west were brought into the union they be formed around watersheds, rather than arbitrary political boundaries (see his proposed map at He believed, presciently, that because of an arid climate, state organization decided by any other factor would lead to water conflict down the road. Powerful forces, however, most prominently the rail companies, were pressing for state borders to be aligned in ways believed to facilitate commercial agriculture. The west, Powell argued, was too dry, and its soils too poor, to support agriculture at a scale common in the East. But the rail lobby prevailed in Congress, with profound and enduring consequences. For a recent exploration of Powell’s legacy emphasizing indigenous cultures in the Southwest, see Jack Loeffler and Celestia Loeffler, eds., Thinking Like a Watershed: Voices from the West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012).

21 Marita Prandoni, “Know Your Lifeboat: An Interview with Permaculturist Brock Dolman,” Eco Zine, EcoHearth, November 10, 2011, See also Brock Dolman, Basins of Relations: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watershed, 2nd ed. (Occidental, CA: Water Institute, 2008).

22 See National Geographic Education, “Mapping the World’s Watersheds,”; Aboriginal Mapping Network,

23 Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985), 43.

24 From Used by permission.

25 See e.g. Douglas Aberly, Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment (Philadelphia: New Society, 1993); Van Andruss, et al., eds., Home! A Bioregional Reader (Philadelphia: New Society, 1990); Gary Snyder, A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1995); Molly Scott Cato, The Bioregional Economy: Land, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (New York: Routledge, 2013); Mike Carr, Bioregionalism and Civil Society: Democratic Challenges to Corporate Globalism, Sustainability and the Environment Series (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2004); and Robert L. Thayer, ed., Lifeplace: Bioregional Thought and Practice (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003). Thayer’s comprehensive bibliography of bioregionalist writing prior to 1999 can be found at

26 Rare exceptions are found in the writing of Wendell Berry and the late Jim Corbett—neither of whom are professional theologians! Though I concluded my Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994) by proposing a reconstructive theology and politics of bioregionalism (chapter 11), twenty years ago this did not find much of an audience among churches; gratefully, this is changing now.

27 For a more elaborated articulation of what watershed discipleship theology practices might be see my “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice,” Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 3 (Fall 2014): forthcoming; and Further characteristics and perspectives related to this emerging paradigm are explored in other articles in this issue of Missio Dei.

28 I read the text this way based on several exegetical observations. The “revelation” anticipated is apocalyptic (v. 18, apokaluptō; v. 19, apokalupsis)—suggesting an unmasking of our true human creaturehood. That the fate of human beings and nature is tightly interrelated is indicated by the dialectical assertion that creation will share our “liberation” (eleutheria, v. 21) even as we share creation’s “groan” (v. 23). The verbs in vv. 22 (sustenazō, only here in the NT) and 23 (stenazō) may allude to the “groan” of the Israelites under slavery (LXX, stenagmos; Exod 2:24, 6:5, as in Rom 8:26). This hope for the liberation of all of creation defines what it means to be “saved” (v. 24a).

29 On the Fall as rebellion against the ecology of creaturehood see my “From Garden to Tower: Genesis 1–11 as a Critique of Civilization and an Invitation to Indigenous Re-Visioning,” in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, ed. Steve Heinrichs (Waterloo, ON: Herald, 2013), 109–21.

30 This notion has been developed by evangelical native theologian Randy Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, Prophetic Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

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The Transfigured Earth: Political Theology and Bioregional Imagination

A politics of the transfigured earth must pay attention to the ravens and lilies of the field, confessing the woven thread between human communities and the life and health of the earth. Jesus enacts the transfigured earth by pairing the renewal of society with a foreign leper healed in the Jordan watershed. This interpretation and numerous social movements offer ground for a bioregional imagination of reinhabitation: empowering people to live well together in places.

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you” –Wendell Berry1

The World and the Earth

On a July evening, I sat in a hotel outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. Mahmoud Abu Eid, a Palestinian Muslim and family friend, told his story to a group of American travelers. He talked about checkpoints and home demolitions, about color-coded ID cards that classified him as a resident alien with ephemeral rights. He talked about seven generations of his family who had lived in that city. “We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere,” lamented the poet Mahmoud Darwish. “We have a country of words. Speak Speak so we may know the end of / this travel.”2

An exasperated listener blurted out, “Why do you stay in Palestine with so much persecution?”

Mahmoud smiled and said, “Because we have no other choice. This is my place. I love this land. Jesus loved this land, even though he once cursed it. But he cursed the actions, not the land.”

Christian theologians often stumble over the contours of land and place. Like the exasperated American traveler, they struggle to understand someone like Mahmoud who expresses an intimate affection for where he is. Theologians recognize the importance of place in biblical stories, but they have invested far more intellectual energy into puzzling over the meaning of time. A teleological bias tempts Christians to denigrate the places of the world. Place is misconstrued when theologians treat all the world as if it were merely the stage for time, and perhaps even an outdated theater in this industrial world where progress waits for no one and no place. Time-obsessed narratives like historical progress, development, or Manifest Destiny justify destroying places for the sake of some predetermined future. This endless linear march fuels an insatiable desire until that next purchase, trip, or salvation, which are always in the future. As Vine Deloria says, “If time becomes our primary consideration, we never seem to arrive at the reality of our existence in places.”3 The rhythms and shapes of place are eroded, viewed as amorphous backdrops easily substituted by anywhere else.

Devaluing place—which also usually means its people—equates the world, a famous biblical motif for the powers and principalities, with the earth, the biodiversity of ecosystems and human communities. Engagement with “the world” then often assumes a devastating conflation, represented and reinforced by three prevalent political theologies: nostalgia for Christendom, baptizing the state, and resident alienation.

Nostalgia for Christendom pines for the bygone days when the church ruled the world and avows that it must once again have dominion. Radical Orthodoxy is an intellectually influential form of this trend which occasionally provides critiques of modern liberalism and capitalism but often stays silent about Christendom’s immeasurable sins, such as the endorsement of countless imperial campaigns that evicted indigenous people from their homelands. In this ideology, the cross is turned upside down and sharpened into a righteous sword.

Most political theologians are suspicious of rerouting all roads toward Rome. But their default is to baptize governments like the United States of America while ignoring or endorsing state violence to make the world safe for representative democracy and globalized capitalism. Christian realists, maintaining that right should use might and that politics are all about forceful power, acknowledge the shortcomings of modern societies, but they are the lesser evil. Institutional wealth built on slavery and ethnic cleansing, increasing economic inequity, and the wreckage of soil, forests, and water are regretted as unfortunate byproducts. The US may not have committed more crimes than other imperial nations, historian Ronald Wright notes, but “it forgets them more quickly and more thoroughly.”4 Political theologies of the state suffer from amnesia concerning its terrors and its historical alternatives.

The third major trend will have none of this. Instead, Christians are resident aliens, citizens of a heavenly colony in the world but not of it, refusing the authority and splendor of the world’s kingdoms to remain perpetual exiles among them. But its mantra to “let the church be the church” obscures that churches are located somewhere surrounded by, and dependent on, neighbors they did not choose. Resident alienation, perceived separation from where and with whom we reside, can appease displaced Europeans while subsequently relegating indigenous people and refugees to exile. One resident alienated scholar told me that he mourned for a Native American Christian friend who could not overcome his “Zionist connection to tribe and land” to see the church as an alternative, and truer, community. Identity as exiles in a land that always remains foreign preserves the devastating conflation between the world-as-power and the world-as-earth, like equating the United States of America with the ecosocial body of the continent.5 We will not care for places if we are always aliens to them.

All three theologies see coercive power as the mainstay of politics and share a distrust of diversity. And all three, in varying degrees and fashions, are anthropocentric: the world is human-constructed systems that we either control or from which we escape, effectively overlooking the dependence of these human systems on the life and health of the earth. Each accepts a dangerous reduction of the world’s places and the possibilities for living in them.

“If only people with our ideals had power,” says the revolutionary vanguard before the new dictatorship is installed.

“If only we had the right person in office,” say the political parties before their candidate escalates his predecessor’s policies.

“If only the church would be the church,” say the resident aliens as neoliberalism exploits space and time.

“If only we had a king to lead us like everyone else,” say the elders of Israel to the old prophet Samuel, who then informs them what kings, and eventually empires, do best: centralize wealth and power through militarism and economic stratification by expropriating the best lands and extracting surpluses (1 Sam 8). Empire functions through globalizing placelessness: ignoring boundaries and scale by erecting ever-expanding borders. Any place will do for empire, because all places are equally expendable.

Wendell Berry notes that many American Christians have no place to lay our heads; we are perpetual strangers to our landscapes because our only Holy Land is one we may never see.6 For many, place is apparently just dirt: static and inert, something we wipe from our shoes. We forget that place is soil: living and dying, humming with organisms and complex horizons. Perhaps political theologians can be forgiven for this oversight, considering that our lives are far removed from the people, places, and processes that sustain us. But a displaced Christian theology of dominion has too often sanctified or ignored social and ecological destruction. We cannot divorce the social and the ecological because the former is immersed in and sustained by the latter. They co-evolved, and no matter how big we get we still depend on patterns of water, light, and soil.

The three major political theologies have encouraged, or at the least not discouraged, living beyond any sense of human scale. We need a resilient and regenerative scale that confesses the bond between human powers and the life and health of the earth.7 We never live nowhere and we never live alone; even if we constantly relocate we are always somewhere and we are always related to other lives. The polyphonic biblical narrative does not suggest a uniform perspective about the earth, but it also does not pine for a heavenly afterlife for the disembodied soul. From the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, a recurring biblical icon of salvation is not a spectral heaven but a transfigured earth. This salvation depends on people who care about where they live and those who live there. The transfigured earth also depends on politics, not as control or escape, but as practices that help us live together in common places.8

Ecological theologies have blossomed dramatically as more people awaken to the social and ecological toll of a global economic system geared to overproduce items and waste for a minority of the world’s population. Scholars have scribed sophisticated treatments of biblical visions of the land and penned philosophical treatises on anthropocentrism and creation, but these interpretations often struggle to translate generalized theory into sets of practices that enable people to dwell well together. A politics of the transfigured earth must pay attention to the ravens and the lilies of the field, to the distinctive creatures and places around us. If we do so, then we might consider bioregions as meaningful sites of action and reflection.

Reinhabiting the Transfigured Earth

Bioregions are the confluence of patterns like watersheds and landforms, soil and vegetation types, climate, and human interaction. Bioregions are places with negotiated cultural and ecological boundaries in which we know the scale of our actions, these actions are sensitive to feedback, and inhabitants can be included in making decisions. Even though these boundaries are fluid, they are more viable than arbitrary political lines.9

I currently live in the Shenandoah Valley, part of the Ridge and Valley subsection of the Great Appalachian Valley in North America. This two-hundred-mile basin is hemmed by the Allegheny Mountains to the west, the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, and the Potomac and James Rivers to the north and south respectively. Shenandoah is carpeted with mixed hardwood forests and fertile limestone soil, evidence that the valley was once under ocean, which explains its long cultivated history. The valley’s spine is the eponymous river and its watershed. Landscape architect Robert Thayer describes bioregions as physiographically unique, geographically legitimate, and operative spatial units.10 Shenandoah might fit that portrayal.

Thayer’s depiction emphasizes the importance of scale in bioregional imaginations, founded on the premise that we create ethical relationships when our actions have consequences for others,11 which is always. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, including neighbors we did not choose and maybe are not even human, is easier done when we are close enough to see the effect our lives take through critical feedback loops, such as observing that our energy use exhausts its sources or sustains them, and then having the decision-making ability to change and reorganize the system. Clearly, bioregional boundaries will not completely supplant political precincts in the near future, but partnerships like the Appalachian Transition Initiative are forming across such arbitrary lines to address social and ecological issues.12

Appalachia is one of the most biodiverse regions in North America, but also one of the most socially fragmented and economically poor. In the late nineteenth century, Central Appalachia became the dominant source of coal and timber for the American economy, but increased mechanization, depleted mines, and deforestation forced millions to immigrate north for factory work. Thirty-six of the poorest one hundred US counties are in this region, with the greatest poverty found in rural counties with high coal production. Access to education and healthcare has been limited and the region has high rates of diabetes, cancer, mental health conditions, and widespread drug abuse. The land itself has also suffered from pervasive mining and logging. The abuse of the land is substantially correlated with absentee corporate ownership. State and federal regulations are inadequately enforced and counties are often controlled by a powerful few. People often feel compelled to choose between jobs and the health of the land and themselves. The modern industrial economy has not been the savior for Central Appalachia.

The Appalachian Transition Initiative is a network of almost sixty organizations and associations devoted to a just and sustainable Central Appalachia. They refuse to wait for outside solutions, being instead committed to creative local responses to concentrated power, poverty, and land abuse. Their network is a resource of experiments and stories for the transition of their economies and communities. They propose diverse ways forward like art and place-based education, small-scale business and community healthcare, housing and infrastructure, environmental restoration and renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture and forestry.13

The Appalachian Transition Initiative does not use explicit bioregional language, but it combines affection for place with transformative relationships that constitute the bioregional imagination. Bioregions are never insular because watersheds are part of the global hydrological cycle, climatic domains include multiple bioregions, and nutrients flow where they will like the holy ruach. The Shenandoah River includes two forks almost 100 miles each until they converge for 55 miles flowing northeast into the Potomac River and then southeast to the Chesapeake Bay and into the ocean. Simply by the flow of water, Shenandoah is related to the world. Our actions always affect our neighbors and strangers.

Places are not only connected, but they are always changing. There is no state of place, no “pristine baseline”14 to which we can return. Bioregions are grounded mosaics moving through time that reject the dichotomy between culture and nature: like every other creature, we alter and adapt to our ecosystems, which in turn adapt to and alter us. We are, as historian Dan Flores says, “endlessly recreating place.”15 Purist rejections of change and difference are inattentive to the lively unfolding of place.

Bioregional praxis recognizes that human communities always live within the ecological household. This perception shifts us from a culture of occupation to cultures of reinhabitation.16 The best hope for a sustainable future is reinhabitation, which means committing to the life and health of our places. Occupation controls, but reinhabitation converses. If we observe and interact within context, which also means recognizing that contexts are dynamic and connected, then we will find more appropriate and transformative responses to complex social and ecological patterns. Political theologies of empire, the state, and alienation can prevent diverse people from actually facing one another to address common life. Reinhabitation, dwelling well together in the world’s diverse and dynamic places, begins to envision the transfigured earth.

The River is Reconciliation

The practice of reinhabitation makes possible, and will be made possible by, imaginative interpretations of biblical stories. The stories about Jesus arose from certain places; we make important connections—such as the one Jesus makes between social transformation, care of the land, and welcoming the stranger—when we replace these tales in their social and ecological context.17 The land, which Mahmoud said Jesus loved, is part of those stories in ways that challenge the three prevailing political theologies.

Israelite practices were closely related to the land and seasonal changes. Defining regions was important because harvest times differed based on local climates.18 Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God grew from the soil, seasons, and stories of the Lower Galilee under imperial rule, a social ecotone where creation and empire overlapped.

The land between the river and the sea, like Appalachia, is a fragile place, but it is also astoundingly fertile with diverse ecological niches close together.19 Biblical scholar Ellen Davis suspects that its “liminal location gave that small corridor of land a gene flow with few parallels worldwide.”20 This funneled strip is like an ecotone, which is the overlapping edge between two ecosystems that results in greater biodiversity.21 Instead of rigid borders, bioregional boundaries are ecotones and mosaic habitats. According to Toby Hemenway, edges like ecotones

are where things happen. Where a forest meets the prairie, where a river flows into the sea, or at nearly any other boundary between two ecosystems, is a cauldron of biodiversity. All the species that thrive in each of the two environments are present, plus new species that live in the transition zone between the two. The edge is richer than what lies on either side.22

We need readings of reinhabitation, because these ancient myths about this ancient place catastrophically influence modern geopolitics. It matters that Zionist leaders like David Ben-Gurion hosted study groups on the Book of Joshua with scholars, politicians, and military officials.23 It matters that the United States has considered itself as both the persecuted New Israel and the triumphant New Rome.24 We should, and can, interpret these stories with a bioregional imagination that tends to the earth and its creatures. Jesus’ homecoming in the Gospel of Luke helps us imagine bioregional engagement with the land and the people in it.

As was his custom, Jesus attends synagogue service on the Sabbath while visiting his folks. He reads from Isaiah that the speaker has been anointed to preach good news to the poor, liberate the oppressed, and proclaim the Jubilee. In a dramatic afterthought, he announces, “Those words are fulfilled right now.” Everyone nods in amazed approval, and maybe the poor in attendance say, “It’s about damn time!” In those days, peasants were subject to multiple layers of colonial taxation, and those who could not pay were evicted from ancestral lands in the wake of wide estates.25 Jubilee envisions a radical social order that preserves the economic viability of agrarian peasants26 through an ethic of abundance and self-restraint.27 Moreover, jubilee suggests that the central political and moral question of land possession is not ownership of the land but care of the land.28 If possession is conditional on care and not ownership, says Davis, then Jubilee challenges not only old states and empires but also the new ones.29

Jesus announces that this ecotone belongs with the people who care for it, not to those who may own it and exploit it. As everyone nods in agreement, Jesus adds that Jubilee is not just for the chosen people, some alienated church set apart. “There were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleaned—only Naaman the Syrian,” who was not just any outsider but a major cog in the “Aramean military machine.”30 Jesus describes the kingdom of God by pairing the tale of an unclean outsider with his vision of the social renewal of Israel, which is like saying that enslaved Africans are more responsible for building America, or that indigenous people are more responsible for democracy than the Founding Fathers, or that Hispanic immigrants who do our dirty work are returning this land to its multicultural roots. Jesus’ listeners try to throw him off a cliff because of his audacious social ecology.

Jesus reminds his enraged audience that welcoming the stranger is deeply compatible with at least some of their political traditions.31 He juxtaposes Jubilee with a leprous foreigner to reinterpret how the kingdom of God rises like leaven in the land. The Jordan River flows through that interpretation in an important way.

Naaman’s Israelite slave girl recommends that her leprous master see the prophet in Samaria, highlighting “a link between invasion and illness as well as between peaceful contact and healing.”32 According to the folk wisdom of the unnamed girl, healing can only “result from a nonmilitary encounter with his Israelite rivals.”33 But the general scoffs at Elisha’s advice to wash seven times in the River Jordan because that watercourse is a trickle compared to the rushing rivers back home. Once again servants, not authoritative advisors, intervene and convince him to perform the ritual. He does not even need the prophet or any priests because the river itself is enough.34 Naaman has crossed the streams of the Jordan twice: once to attack Israel and once again to find healing. This time, Elisha tells the afflicted general to immerse himself in the river that separates, or perhaps unites, Israel and Aram. The Jordan is one of Hemenway’s edges, “places of transition and translation, where matter and energy change speed or stop or, often, change into something else.”35

When Jesus combines the healing of Naaman with the renewal of society, he recognizes that places like rivers are not sites of separation, whether between Israel and Aram, Israel and Arab countries, or Texas and Mexico. Rivers are sites of encounter, boundaries that merge rather than divide. A river is not a wall because, as Naaman found out, by its nature the river is reconciliation: drawing life back together in the watershed. The movements of rivers tell us that strangers are always among us and the familiar always appears in the foreign. The river is the local and the global, the neighbor and the stranger in our midst.

Our attention to the movement of water is related to our treatment of neighbors and strangers. According to Marianne Sawicki, the Herodians operated by a Hellenistic Mediterranean idiom of centralization and marginalization.36 They employed Roman technology in an early pave-and-pipe paradigm that erected massive visible aqueducts that conducted water from faraway streams to urban centers. Such irrigation, which provides plentiful water during droughts or off-seasons, has profound effects on watersheds: groundwater is used faster than rainfall can recharge it, which can cause land to subside and salinization near coasts. Water is borrowed from other places and from the future, and the likelihoods for nutrient leaching and soil erosion are increased.37

In contrast, Sawicki proposes an idiom of circulation and grounding to interpret the indigenous Israelites.38 For them, the heavens poured down water to the earth, where it was grounded by crops and stationary containers, such as cisterns, or circulated through mobile containers, such as channels, both of which pay close attention to the pattern of water through contours, geological features, and vegetation.39 Catching and storing rainfall represents the people’s dependence on the gifts of heaven and the earth.40 Circulation and grounding, Sawicki believes, is a better way to understand Israel’s view of holiness than the prevalent view of separation: “a place is holy when things move rightly within it and, moreover, when it can rectify the trajectory of what crosses it. Thus, what profanes is whatever moves the wrong way.”41 Naaman’s movement through the land is corrected by the circulation and grounding of the watershed. He learns to move differently, from profane control to holy conversation, through reinhabitation.

This is not a quaint comparison between two ancient views. The modern state of Israel controls the Jordan River and 80% of Palestine’s depleting groundwater sources, both of which are channeled to taps in Tel Aviv and farms in the Negev. This diversion, an idiom of centralization and marginalization, has severely diminished the ancient waterway, made essential aquifers extremely vulnerable to salinization and raw sewage, and tightened the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.42 Water, and how it is used, may determine this conflict,43 as well as many others.

Bioregionalism is the conversation between people and place, and conversations always hold open the possibility for mutual conversion. According to Daniel Kemmis, places can breed cooperation when “people who find themselves held together (perhaps against their will) in a shared place” discover that their best chance for survival is learning to work together.44 Our best chance is to enact Jesus’ blend of Jubilee and watershed transformation.


The good news of the kingdom of God could be interpreted as ecosynthesis, which is the evolution of native and exotic species into new ecosystems in response to novel conditions. These new ecosystems have remarkably beneficial effects by restoring devastated landscapes,45 by reinhabiting the transfigured earth. Imperial occupation from Rome and Jerusalem relentlessly disrupted Galilee, so perhaps Jesus’ particular articulation of the kingdom of God was an imaginative patchwork of observation and interaction within an endlessly recreated, and recreating, place. As Mahmoud said, Jesus loves the land and its people.

Jesus embraces the buzzing biodiversity of the land as a parable for social diversity, an ecosynthesis stitching together Jubilee and the leper in the river. The reconciling river is not just the Jordan, but also the Shenandoah, the Rio Grande, and all the watersheds of the world.46 Reinhabitation uproots nostalgia for Christendom, baptizing the state, and resident alienation. For the kingdom of God is the transfigured earth. The ground beneath our feet is the holy land.

Jonathan McRay grew up in East Tennessee (Central Appalachia) and worked in Palestine and Israel. The author of You Have Heard It Said: Events of Reconciliation, he has an MA in Conflict Transformation. Jonathan and his wife Rachelle, a physician assistant, live with friends on a small homestead in the Shenandoah Valley, where he also works with New Community Project ( an education and demonstration center for permaculture and regenerative gardening; a supportive home for friends recovering from addictions and homelessness (which is all of us to varying degrees); and a project incubator to hatch community building with neighbors, schools, and local associations.


Berry, Wendell. Citizenship Papers: Essays. Washington, DC: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004.

________. Foreword to Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, by Ellen F. Davis, ix–xiv. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

________. The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1981.

________. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays. New York: Pantheon, 1993.

Carr, Mike. Bioregionalism and Civil Society: Democratic Challenges to Corporate Globalism. Sustainability and the Environment. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “We Travel Like Other People.” In Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché, 563. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Davis, Ellen F. Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Deloria, Vine. God Is Red: A Native View of Religion. 2nd ed. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1994.

El Houry, Ramzi. “Water for All: The Case for a One-State Solution.” Aljazeera. January 2012.

Evanoff, Richard. Bioregionalism and Global Ethics: A Transactional Approach to Achieving Ecological Sustainability, Social Justice, and Human Well-Being. Studies in Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Falk, Ben. The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012.

Faris, Stephan. “Holy Water: A Precious Commodity in a Region of Conflict.” Orion Magazine. November/December 2011.

Flores, Dan. “Place: Thinking about Bioregional History.” In Bioregionalism, edited by Michael Vincent McGinnis, 43–60. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Freyne, Sean. Jesus, a Jewish Galilean: A New Reading of the Jesus-Story. New York: T & T Clark, 2006.

Gliessman, Stephen R. Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems. 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press, 2007.

Habel, Norman C. The Land Is Mine: Six Biblical Land Ideologies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Havrelock, Rachel. River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Hemenway, Toby. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. 2nd ed. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2009.

Holmgren, David. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. Hepburn Springs, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services, 2002.

Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Howard-Brook, Wes. “Come Out My People!”: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010.

Kemmis, Daniel. Community and the Politics of Place. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Lowery, Richard H. Sabbath and Jubilee. Understanding Biblical Themes. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000.

Pinches, Charles R. “Stout, Hauerwas, and the Body of America.” Political Theology 8, no. 1 (January 2007): 9–31.

Renew Appalachia.

Sawicki, Marianne. Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 2000.

Spina, Frank Anthony. The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Thayer, Robert. LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Wright, Ronald. What Is America? A Short History of the New World Order. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.

1 Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers: Essays (Washington, DC: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004), 135.

2 Mahmoud Darwish, “We Travel Like Other People,” in Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, ed. Carolyn Forché (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), 563.

3 Vine Deloria, God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 2nd ed. (Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1994), 73.

4 Ronald Wright, What Is America? A Short History of the New World Order (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009), 15.

5 For an excellent critique of Jeffrey Stout and Stanley Hauerwas along these lines in light of Wendell Berry, see Charles R. Pinches, “Stout, Hauerwas, and the Body of America,” Political Theology 8, no. 1 (January 2007): 9–31.

6 Wendell Berry, foreword to Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, by Ellen F. Davis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), xii. Berry has elaborated on Christian theology and the earth in The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1981), ch. 24, and in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays (New York: Pantheon, 1993), ch. 7.

7 Norman C. Habel, The Land Is Mine: Six Biblical Land Ideologies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 148, discusses five different, and at times conflicting, biblical land ideologies. He claims that the Hebrew Scriptures have “no monolithic concept of land,” only “diverse images and doctrines of land.” Wes Howard-Brook, “Come Out My People!”: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), views the Bible as wrestling between the religion of empire and the religion of creation.

8 Daniel Kemmis, Community and the Politics of Place (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 122.

9 Robert Thayer, LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 19.

10 Ibid., 15.

11 Richard Evanoff, Bioregionalism and Global Ethics: A Transactional Approach to Achieving Ecological Sustainability, Social Justice, and Human Well-Being, Studies in Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 2011), 20.

12 Thayer, 150.

14 Dan Flores, “Place: Thinking about Bioregional History,” in Bioregionalism, ed. Michael Vincent McGinnis (New York: Routledge, 1999), 50.

15 Ibid., 52.

16 Mike Carr, Bioregionalism and Civil Society: Democratic Challenges to Corporate Globalism, Sustainability and the Environment (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004), 238.

17 “The interest in Jesus as a social revolutionary has led to an incomplete picture insofar as it ignores aspects of his respect for the natural environment also.” Sean Freyne, Jesus, a Jewish Galilean: A New Reading of the Jesus-Story (New York: T & T Clark International, 2006), 25.

18 Ibid., 24.

19 Richard H. Lowery, Sabbath and Jubilee, Understanding Biblical Themes (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000), 9.

20 Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 50.

21 David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability (Hepburn Springs, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services, 2002), 224.

22 Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd ed. (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2009), 45.

23 “Ben-Gurion and his colleagues based their new Jewish national myth on a revivification of the conquest, settlement, territorial distribution, and national brotherhood as described in the book of Joshua.” Rachel Havrelock, River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 14.

24 Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 137.

25 Ibid., 32.

26 Habel, 97.

27 Lowery, 57.

28 Davis, 102.

29 Ibid., 107.

30 Frank Anthony Spina, The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 76.

31 Havrelock, 16.

32 Ibid., 177.

33 Ibid., 178.

34 Spina, 81.

35 Hemenway, 46.

36 Marianne Sawicki, Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 2000), 61.

37 Stephen R. Gliessman, Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems, 2nd ed. (New York: CRC Press, 2007), 4.

38 Sawicki, 61.

39 Ben Falk, The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012), 85.

40 Sawicki, 100.

41 Sawicki, 34.

42 Stephan Faris, “Holy Water: A Precious Commodity in a Region of Conflict,” Orion Magazine, November/December 2011,

43 Ramzi El Houry, “Water for All: The Case for a One-State Solution,” Aljazeera, January 2012,

44 Kemmis, 122.

45 Holmgren, 262.

46 “I have remembered also that Harlan Hubbard, when a local church asked him for a painting of the Jordan, made them a painting of their own river, the Ohio.” Wendell Berry, forward to Scripture, xii–xiii.

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Watershed Discipleship as Home Mission: Toward a Constructive Paradigm of Repentance

This essay extends a commissioning home into our watersheds as a way of replacement and repentance of the rootlessness affecting North American Christians today. The author traces this rootlessness to the Christendom church and certain destructive theologies that sanctioned colonialism. “Watershed discipleship,” as set forth by theologian Ched Myers, offers a constructive framework for mission within a paradigm of repentance for sins perpetuated by colonial theologies.

During a college internship program, I lived with an Ikalahan-Kalanguya host family in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Luzon, the Philippines. I often accompanied my host mother to tend her family’s subsistence farm, where she grew many varieties of sweet potatoes, peanuts, beans, squash, garlic, and ginger. My host father worked as a pastor and community forester, maintaining the dipterocarp, pine, and cloud forests and protecting the people’s traditional “Ancestral Domain” against illegal loggers and other intrusions.

Legal recognition of the Ancestral Domain, also called the Kalahan Forest Reserve, resulted from a secure land tenure agreement, the very first of its kind, between the government of the Philippines and the Ikalahan-Kalanguya people in the 1970s.1 A watershed centrally defines the approximately 36,000-acre Ancestral Domain.2 Flowing into the Magat River, the watershed serves as a sanctuary to more than 150 endangered species of plants and animals.3 The people have decided collectively to protect their watershed, which means that those who live near the sources of water cannot expand their farms, raise livestock intensively, or use chemical pesticides on the land. As a society, they have limited their own potential growth for the sake of the wellbeing of the whole watershed, including those who live downstream.4

My host mother, Aunti Noemi, told me that when her parent’s generation converted to Christianity in the 1960s, they decided to expand their faith instead of their gardens.5 She contrasted their decision with that of the communities outside of the Ancestral Domain who have denuded their once-forested slopes to make room for mono-crop farms for distant markets. This kind of farming has created drastic erosion and mudslides, and local people attribute an increase in cancer in those areas to the heavy use of synthetic chemical inputs.

United Church of Christ missionaries in the Philippines lived and shared a deeply incarnational gospel with the Ikalahan-Kalanguya; importantly, they affirmed and learned from indigenous cultural and ecological values. The Christian gospel resonated with certain Ikalahan-Kalanguya concepts like li-teng that led them to care for their watershed. The Hebrew word shalom is the nearest equivalent to li-teng, a deeply ecological word signifying abundant life for all.6 Because the Good News strengthened certain indigenous cultural and ecological practices, the Ikalahan-Kalanguya have become a model throughout Southeast Asia for their community-based forest management, indigenous educational programs, and their ongoing systems of restorative justice through the tongtongan, or council of elders.

During my six months living with the Ikahlan-Kalanguya, I became increasingly aware of a significant gap in my own life. By age twenty-one, I had already moved ten times, having grown up in a missionary family turned highly mobile family. I became accustomed to the intermingled pain of leaving friends and place and the tingle of excitement at traveling somewhere new. I envisioned myself working overseas someday, living the exhilarating life of a global nomad. No place held any claim over me. I had no desire to limit my life to one place until living within the Ikalahan-Kalanguya Ancestral Domain. There, the people’s love for their particular home opened my eyes and exposed the placeless dreams that scripted my own life goals.

Historically, the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese have all colonized or occupied the Philippines. Over the years, the Ikalahan-Kalanguya people have resisted—in addition to illegal logging—land grabbers, plans for exclusive golf courses set forth by wealthy politicians in Manila, cell phone company satellite towers, and most recently, Australian mining companies.7 Love for the naduntog nakayang, the high mountain forest where the clouds settle in mist around the trees, compelled their resistance.8 Their home was worth defending with their lives. I had to ask myself, what place on earth would I ever put my life on the line for? Sadly, I did not know the answer.

Before I left the Philippines, my host family held a prayer service attended by local elders and friends from my time there. The pastor stood to give me a commissioning: he prayed that I would return home to the US to apply what I had learned with them. This simple and profound “co-missioning” changed my life. It initiated my journey of recognizing my own dangerous rootlessness, and turned me toward home.

Commissioned toward Home

Returning from the Philippines, I felt disturbed by the fact that my own sense of home seemed as distant from me as a foreign land. My own condition, I believe, is not unique, but perhaps reflects the preeminent social-spiritual malady facing North American Christians today. This condition poses a real threat to the church’s cross-cultural witness and mission.

Cross-cultural mission historically has been the “life-blood of the church,” and is necessary for its ongoing transformation.9 Mission from and to all places radically de-centers Christianity from Christendom, and from any one cultural or social group instating their own form of Christianity as a totalizing gospel for all.10 Alan Kreider writes, “After Christendom, missionary sending no longer follows imperial patterns; it no longer goes from Christendom to heathendom; it is, as Samuel Escobar has put it, from everywhere to everyone.”11 However, if the missionary has no sense of belonging to any particular place, mission from everywhere becomes mission from nowhere.

Rootlessness threatens the good news of cross-cultural mission. This rootlessness, observed in the pattern of colonial cross-cultural encounters, defined not only much of Christian mission, but also political conquest, early anthropology, and international commerce to this day. Indigenous people have theorized that what drives this colonizing characteristic for either the nineteenth-century missionary or the twenty-first-century businessperson is the “original trauma” of European displacement and alienation from the land in the colonial era.12 In short, because of this colonial trauma, mission from those who have no sense of home can become a displaced and displacing mission. How can those who do not know a home ever understand or stand with other people’s struggles to defend and protect their homes?13 How can we share and embody a gospel of incarnation if we ourselves have never lived “incarnationally” in any one place?

Christian mission as missio Dei, God’s mission in the world, is not necessarily long-distance or cross-cultural. Alan Kreider writes that the word “missionary,” with its cross-cultural and long-distance connotations, “restricts and limits” our understanding of the missio Dei that sends all Christians into our own lives as witnesses to the Good News of reconciliation in Christ.14 The field of home missions has often applied the logic of long-distance, cross-cultural mission to church work domestically, seeking to share the gospel in ways ranging from short-term mission trips to forming relationships with other cultural groups in a given area. These expressions of mission have emphasized human reconciliation to God in Christ. Yet the fullness of God’s reconciliation also extends to all of creation. As Colossians 1:19–20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”15

How might the idea of home missions be expanded to encompass this biblical vision of reconciliation of all things in Christ, a vision that necessarily entails facing our own need for reconciliation with our home places? What if, in awareness of historic colonial patterns of displacement, we expanded the traditional meaning of “home missions” as also a “mission home”?

A renewed conception of home mission as a “mission home” necessitates a commitment to a geographically defined place, an understanding of the impacts of sin there, a discernment of the ways God is at work in that place, and how we may join in God’s work for the reconciliation of all things through discipleship of Jesus. For the sake of this essay, I will define home place ecologically as the watershed to which we belong and where our discipleship can be rooted. This watershed may or may not be where we were born or even have lived for most of our lives. The point is that we all live in a place, and so any place, whether in North America or abroad, can be considered a starting place for our mission home.

I believe that the geographic reality of a watershed can provide helpful boundaries for our commitment to home mission as mission home. Whether or not we know it, our lives as humans, along with the lives of all other biota, are inextricably dependent upon watersheds. Mission home into our watershed involves becoming reconciled to a home place. In order to fully commit to our watershed as home mission, however, we must face the sins of the past and present with clear sight, and take on the active work of repentance for the far-reaching devastations of the Christendom theologies that deny any place as home.

Christendom, the Doctrine of Discovery, and Watershed Conquest

Theologian Ched Myers sees Christendom as actively underwriting three harmful theological errors at the root of the crisis of placelessness:

  1. A docetism that privileges spiritual matters over social and ecological ones.
  2. The presumption of human domination over creation.
  3. A theology and politics of presumed “divinely granted” entitlement to land and resources.16

These three main dangerous theologies undergird missionary, colonialist, anthropological, and economically driven projects of exploitation of both people and land. Below I explore the destructive outcomes of one of these theologies, specifically the theology and politics of entitlement encapsulated in what is called the “Doctrine of Discovery.”

The Doctrine of Discovery and its resulting “watershed conquest” provide an exceptionally relevant case study of the tragic outworking of Christendom theologies. Any work toward reconciliation as mission must take into account these exploitative theologies, and begin with repentance as metanoia. Metanoia, translated from Greek as repentance (e.g., Mark 1:4), carries a connotation of changing both mind and action. Thus, repenting of the theologies of placelessness that persist today means recognizing their error, and actively changing direction by seeing a place as home.

Within the Christendom paradigm, mission and colonialism were interdependent forces. David Bosch writes that the word “mission” is “historically linked indissolubly with the colonial era and with the idea of a magisterial commissioning.”17 The mission and dominion of the Christendom church accompanied, furthered, and was furthered by the dominion of Empire. The fifteenth-century church’s Doctrine of Discovery, known as the “law of Christendom,” exemplifies how political and religious conquests were sealed together.18 The Doctrine of Discovery is defined as, “The logic of fifteenth-century Christendom that endowed European conquerors with self-assumed divine title over all ‘discovered’ land and peoples.”19 Through “discovery,” then, land and people were subjugated and their resources served the church and crown.

During the fifteenth century, the Vatican issued numerous papal bulls, official religious decrees that document the “genesis of competing claims by Christian monarchies and states in Europe to a right of conquest, sovereignty, and dominance over non-Christian peoples, along with their lands, territories, and resources during the so-called Age of Discovery.”20 Two papal bulls in particular, Dum diversas (1452) and Romanus pontifex (1455), provided the legal and religious justification for the conquest and subjugation of both indigenous peoples and lands. In fact, Dum diversas explicitly declared the need to convert not only indigenous peoples but also, crucially, the need to convert the land.21 Through conquest and robbery, the forced conversion and “salvation” of people and land were bound up together.

Through the Doctrine of Discovery, the death-dealing theology of entitlement was preserved and enshrined through doctrine and law, and continues today. I will focus on its impacts in the US, though this Doctrine legally legitimated the destruction of land and peoples worldwide. Law professor Robert J. Miller has shown how the Doctrine of Discovery provided justification for the very establishment of the United States. It is directly connected to Manifest Destiny and the “principle of contiguity” that claimed major territories as if they were unoccupied or undefended. The Doctrine of Discovery appears in government documents providing legal basis for the annexation into the US territory of Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and other states.22 In the 1823 Supreme Court case Johnson v. M’Intosh, the US Senate actually cited the 1493 papal bull Inter caetera as justification for dominion.23 Through the Doctrine of Discovery, the US government repeatedly denied Native Americans full title to their land, making it easier for their impoverishing displacement and loss of land.24 As recently as 2005, legal cases involving Native American land loss can be traced to the Doctrine of Discovery.25 Therefore, the Doctrine of Discovery shapes not only our church history as Christians, but also what it means to be a US citizen today, since the doctrines and theologies of Christendom have been encoded in our nation’s laws.

The Doctrine of Discovery’s “principle of contiguity” is a classic case of entitlement theologies expressed politically, through which watersheds became part and parcel of the conquest of the United States. The principle of contiguity used the geographic scope of large watersheds to expand the scope of colonialism. Robert J. Miller summarizes contiguity as follows:

Under Discovery, Europeans claimed a significant amount of land contiguous to and surrounding their actual discoveries and settlements in the New World. . . . Moreover, contiguity held that the discovery of the mouth of a river gave the discovering country a claim over all the lands drained by that river; even if that was thousands of miles of territory. For example, refer to the boundaries of the Louisiana Territory and Oregon country as defined by the United States.26

Contiguity explains why Lewis and Clark raced to discover the mouth of the Columbia River. Rather than the expedition of the heroic, morally neutral explorers I learned about in public education, theirs was a race to take the Northwest.27 Through contiguity, the discovery of the mouth of a river created a claim over the entire drainage system of the river and adjacent coast.28 At the heart of the practice of the Doctrine of Discovery, then, was watershed conquest, as exemplified in the seizure of the Louisiana Territory (the entire western drainage system of the Mississippi) and also Oregon country (the drainage system of the Columbia River).29

What does the Doctrine of Discovery and its resulting watershed conquest have to do with us as North American Christians in mission today? I would argue that Christendom’s theological and legal frameworks continue to hinder our moral vision, blinding us to the importance of place. Especially for those of us who have benefitted historically from European conquest, land seizure, and settlement, it is difficult to see the value of land and primacy of home to other peoples. For cross-cultural and long-distance missionaries, we may unknowingly carry with us theologies of displacement that colonial-era Christendom grafted into Christianity, and upon which the US was founded.

I believe that the legacy and continued impacts of the theologies that sanctioned watershed conquest may be healed by watershed discipleship, a home mission into our watersheds and a way of living out the gospel of reconciliation there. The rest of this essay will set forth two hallmarks of watershed discipleship, repentance and re-placement.

Repentance as Missional Paradigm Shift

Many Christian denominations and faith groups have publically issued statements of repentance of the Doctrine of Discovery and have rightly lamented its effects on indigenous people and the land.30 These confessions of repentance and repudiation point the way forward for other denominations to see how Christendom theologies continue to hinder true reconciliation, and to practice the witness of painful truth-telling. An understanding of repentance as a paradigm for mission greatly aids this most necessary ecclesial process of metanoia.

Missiologist David J. Bosch draws from Hans Küng’s study of theological paradigm shifts to describe significant transitions in the church’s understanding of mission throughout Christian history. He describes the contemporary church in mission as facing a paradigm shift characterized by the loss of Christianity’s dominant position in the world, a “profound feeling of ambiguity” about the Enlightenment god of Progress, an emerging ecological worldview coupled with the necessity of working for peace with justice, and an ecumenical posture toward other faiths that challenges the superiority of Christianity, among other factors.31

In recent decades, the paradigm of reconciliation as mission has gained significant traction in response to the above changes listed by Bosch. The emphasis on reconciliation is certainly a crucial response to the missio Dei, and a corrective to future-oriented salvation narratives of mission. Matthew D. Lundberg writes:

William R. Burrows reminds us that reconciliation is actually an ancient paradigm for mission that is receiving much-needed renewal today since it improves significantly upon the de facto images of “conversion” and “expansion” that characterized most mission efforts during the past five centuries—centuries that overlap, significantly, with the age of conquest, colonization, and varied forms of imperialism.32

Lundberg sees reconciliation as the “ultimate” call of the church-in-mission, yet naïve and impossible without the “penultimate” thing of repentance.33 In order to move toward the fullness of reconciliation offered in Christ, the North American church must embrace a posture of repentance. Lundberg names the legacies of colonialism and racism as examples involving Christian culpability that require a paradigm of repentance:

In these kinds of situations where the church is not a neutral bystander but is in some way guilty of wrongdoing, the church certainly cannot demand or insist upon reconciliation. It can only take up the stance of honest and wholehearted repentance, albeit a repentance that flows from the church’s belief in God’s foundational act of reconciliation in Jesus… such a paradigm of repentance not only enables the broader and ultimate reconciling dynamic of the gospel to remain in view, but it does so in a way that is appropriate to the church’s responsibility for at least some of the world’s ills.34

The paradigm of repentance requires the church to seek not only confession of wrongdoing, but to work toward right relationship with the land and its peoples past and present. This is not a separatist project; full repentance entails a socio-political commitment to the kind of reconciliation that attends to reparations of what has been lost and stolen. Myers writes, “To concede that we are part of the problem is a crucial hedge against both self-righteousness and escapism. But it is not enough: We must also imagine how we can be part of the resolution, the healing and the reconstruction.”35

Repentance, then, as much as it is a turning away from the ways of death and sin promulgated by the Christendom church, must also involve a turning toward. To paraphrase Kathleen Dean Moore, every time we say no to a way of destruction, we say yes to something much more beautiful and life sustaining.36 We need a way to live out both an emphatic No! to what we turn away from, and a productive Yes! to the way of life we turn toward. I propose that the Yes! proclaimed through the framework of watershed discipleship can help to constructively shape a paradigm of repentance.

Watershed Discipleship as Home Mission

Watershed discipleship is an antidote to the deep sense of placelessness lying behind the Doctrine of Discovery and watershed conquest. Watershed discipleship, as set forth by Ched Myers and other animators of this vision, is a way of re-placement.37 Its framework invites Christians to re-place our theology, our readings of Scripture, and our spiritual practices in our bioregions, defined by their source of life in the watershed.

Watershed discipleship calls disciples of Jesus to also become disciples of our particular places. The watershed, what permaculturalist Brock Dolman calls “the basin of relations,” encompasses ecological, social and political realities and relationships. One might imagine a watershed as a bathtub holding the cities, land, people, animals, and the rest of creation where a particular body of water drains.38 This geographically-bound vision points to a way of seeing a place as home, a way to more faithfully live the gospel in a particular place while remaining integrally connected to all other places. Contrary to popular understandings, a “local” focus does not cut people off from a global vision. Wendell Berry writes:

There is no such thing as a ‘global village.’ No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. . . . We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.39

Living and loving within limits, then, are the narrow way toward wholeness everywhere and for everyone.

Watershed discipleship prevents Samuel Escobar’s vision of mission from everywhere from reverting to a displaced and displacing mission from nowhere. In workshops and writings on watershed discipleship, Myers often paraphrases Baba Dioum, a Senegalese environmentalist, in the following dictum:

  • We won’t save places we don’t love.
  • We can’t love places we don’t know.
  • And we don’t know places we haven’t learned.

We cannot be part of God’s work of salvation in this world without being part of the work of learning, knowing, and loving a home place. It goes without saying that we cannot claim and be claimed by a home place without long-term presence in a particular place.

Perhaps no biblical verb has been as significant for the history of mission as that of “go” in the Great Commission of Matt 28:18–20. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a). Mission has been understood in terms of this sending out and leaving home for the sake of spreading the gospel. In order to fully live into a missional paradigm of repentance, I believe watershed discipleship offers the North American church an opportunity to alternatively interpret the commission to “go” in light of our context of rootless mobility, alienation, and displacement.

Watershed discipleship provides a way of repentance through going into our own particular places, turning away from the transmission of a false gospel that denies rootedness and incarnation. Just as Jesus was immersed into his own watershed in the Jordan River (in a baptism of repentance), I believe we must go deeper into the oft-unknown land and waters of our home places, and become disciples of Jesus through learning, knowing, and loving our own watersheds.40


I began with a personal story of a commission home I received from indigenous brothers and sisters in the Philippines. For me, answering the question, what place would you give your life for? meant seeking home in a watershed closer to my birthplace in California. A return to one’s birthplace may not be the answer that others discern. As I was writing this essay, I received word from Ikalahan-Kalanguya friends that Pastor Delbert Rice, North American missionary and cultural anthropologist in the Philippines for over 60 years, had just passed away at his home in the Ancestral Domain.41

Pastor Rice was an example of a faithful witness who poured out his life for the li-teng— the shalom—of the Ikalahan-Kalanguya. He would often recall hikes with tribal elders, learning about the forests, wildlife, and the stories and songs about their place. His work with the elders in the 1970s led to the crucial establishment of the Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF), which successfully challenged land-grabbers in league with the Marcos dictatorship. Even in his last years, Pastor Rice worked passionately with the KEF to strengthen organic agriculture in the region and to resist foreign mining companies that continue to take indigenous lands. He modeled watershed discipleship by re-placing himself deeply within the watershed of the Ancestral Domain. We have everything to learn about this kind of discipleship from Pastor Rice, as well as the people and place he gave his life for.

In conclusion, as I have attempted to live out my own commissioning, I have begun to realize the shared roots between my own individual lack of home place and the larger historic placeless theologies of Christendom. For Christendom’s Doctrine of Discovery, the exploitative conversions of the land and indigenous people were bound together. As church, we need a framework whose transformative potential adequately counters this understanding of conversion. We need a resurrection way more powerful than the death grip of colonialism, one that sees following Jesus into our home places as a way of liberation for all people and land.42

Could it be that watershed discipleship is the commissioning that North American Christians are called to receive and to practice today—that we are now being commissioned home in a final reversal of Christendom? For people whose history is marred by placeless theologies and the erasure of memory, is it possible to repent of the ways of watershed conquest through practicing watershed discipleship? Through the power of the One who will be with us “to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20), I believe it is not only possible, it is our only way home.

Katerina Friesen currently lives in the St. Joseph River watershed where she is an MDiv student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN.


Berry, Wendell. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2003.

Bosch, David JTransforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

DeMocker, Mary. “If Your House Is on Fire: Kathleen Dean Moore on the Moral Urgency of Climate Change.” The Sun 444 (December 2012): 6.

Dolman, Brock. Basins of Relations: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watersheds. 2nd ed. Occidental, CA: Water Institute, 2008.

Dumlao, Artemio A. “Report: Mining Harms Nueva Vizcaya’s Resources.” The Philippine Star, September 23, 2013.

Encyclopedia of American Indian History. 4 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013.

Escobar, Samuel. The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone. Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Finlayson, Rob. “In Memoriam Rev. Delbert Arthur Rice.” Agroforestry World. May 11, 2014.

Frichner, Tonya Gonnella. “Impact on Indigenous Peoples of the International Legal Construct Known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has Served as the Foundation of the Violation of Their Human Rights.” Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Preliminary study submitted to the UN Economic and Social Council, New York, February 3, 2010.

Howell, Brian M., and Jenell Williams Paris. Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.

Kreider, Alan, and Eleanor Kreider. Worship and Mission after Christendom. Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 2011.

Lundberg, Matthew D. “Repentance as a Paradigm for Christian Mission.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 45, no. 2 (March 2010): 201–17.

Miller, Robert J. “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism.” Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Impact of the Doctrine of Discovery, March 30, 2012.

________. Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny. Lincoln: Bison Books, 2008.

Miller, Robert J., Jacinta Ruru, Larissa Behrendt, and Tracey Lindberg. Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Myers, Ched. “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice.” Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 3 (Fall 2014): forthcoming.

________. Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians. Mary­knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994.

Newcomb, Steve. “The Doctrine of Discovery.” Video of presentation, The Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Doctrine of Discovery, The Arizona State Capitol House of Representatives, Phoenix, AZ, March 23, 2012.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). “What is the Doctrine of Discovery? Why Should it Be Repudiated? Factsheet.” New York Yearly Meeting, 2012.

Roxas, Elizabeth. “The Ikalahan: Sustaining Lives, Sustaining Life.” Asia Good Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Practice Project. The Philippines: Environmental Broadcast Circle Association, 2006.

Walls, Andrews F. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996.

Woodley, Randy. Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. Prophetic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

World Council of Churches. “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and its Enduring Impact on Indigenous Peoples.” WCC Executive Committee, Bossey, Switzerland, February 17, 2012.

1 Elizabeth Roxas, “The Ikalahan: Sustaining Lives, Sustaining Life,” Asia Good Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Practice Project (The Philippines: Environmental Broadcast Circle Association, 2006),

2 This essay uses the word “watershed” in its ecological sense. The most commonly used definition of watershed comes from 19th century scientist and geographer John Wesley Powell,, who defined it as “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

3 Roxas.

4 Pastor Delbert Rice, ecologist and missionary-anthropologist, would often remark that the lowland peoples, who often discriminated against upland indigenous peoples, had yet to send a “thank you” note or payment for the care the Ikalahan-Kalanguya exercised over the watershed.

5 To read more about the conversion to Christianity of the Ikalahan-Kalanguya, see Brian M. Howell and Jenell Williams Paris, Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 167–68.

6 Randy Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, Prophetic Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), writes that a deeper understanding of shalom as analogous to the “Harmony Way” native to indigenous peoples around the world opens opportunities for greater reconciliation between Westerners, indigenous peoples, and the land.

7 See, e.g., Artemio A. Dumlao, “Report: Mining Harms Nueva Vizcaya’s Resources,” The Philippine Star, September 23, 2013,

8 Italicized lines come from an Ikalahan “love song” for place, the theme song for the indigenous high school, Kalahan Academy: Di naduntog nakayang, babalaw na ko-lapan. “In the high mountain forests, the clouds come down…”

9 Andrews F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 1–25, quoted in Matthew D. Lundberg, “Repentance as a Paradigm for Christian Mission,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 45, no. 2 (March 2010): 201.

10 I distinguish Christianity from Christendom, a paradigm that came to prominence when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone, Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 73, defines Christendom as a social order that “presupposed the dominance of Christianity in Western societies, as well as a certain degree of influence of Christian ideas and principles on the social life and international policies of nations.”

11 Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom (Waterloo, ON.: Herald Press, 2011), 51; citing Escobar.

12 Maori sovereignty advocate Donna Awatere observes that the “original trauma” of European displacement and alienation from the land contributed to the displacement of indigenous peoples from their lands. Ched Myers, Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 342.

13 Ibid., 344.

14 Kreider, 44.

15 Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

16 Ched Myers, “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice,” Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 3 (Fall 2014): forthcoming.

17 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 228.

18 Tonya Gonnella Frichner, “Impact on Indigenous Peoples of the International Legal Construct Known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has Served as the Foundation of the Violation of Their Human Rights,” Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (preliminary study submitted to the UN Economic and Social Council, New York, February 3, 2010), 6,

19 Encyclopedia of American Indian History, vol. 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008), s.v. “Doctrine of Discovery.”

20 Frichner, 7–8.

21 Steve Newcomb, “The Doctrine of Discovery” (video of presentation, The Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Doctrine of Discovery, the Arizona State Capitol House of Representatives, Phoenix, AZ, March 23, 2012),

22 Robert J. Miller, et al., Discovering Indigenous Lands: the Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 67–88.

23 Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today, vol. 2 (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013), s.v. “Indian Sovereignty.”

24 The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), “What is the Doctrine of Discovery? Why Should it Be Repudiated? Factsheet,” (New York Yearly Meeting, 2012),, states:

Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) made “discovery doctrine” explicit in US law. The court denied individuals permission to buy land from American Indian tribes [nations]. Under the doctrine, the court assumed only a sovereign United States could acquire the land, should the Indians choose to sell. In this decision, Indians were given a limited right of “occupancy” without full title to their own land, and could thus lose their land if they could not prove continuous occupancy. The doctrine was reframed in secular terms, in which the criterion for sovereignty became “cultivators of land” instead of “Christians.”

25 E.g., the 2005 US Supreme Court case City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y.,, drew from the Doctrine of Discovery to limit the sovereignty of the Oneida Nation of New York.

26 Robert J. Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism,” Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Impact of the Doctrine of Discovery, March 30, 2012,

27 Robert J. Miller, Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny (Lincoln: Bison Books, 2008), 99–100.

28 Ibid., 108.

29 I credit Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary professor Dr. David Miller for first pointing out the contradictions between watershed discipleship and the Doctrine of Discovery’s version of what I call “watershed conquest.”

30 Denominations that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery include the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, various Unitarian Universalist churches and Quaker organizations, as well as the World Council of Churches. See World Council of Churches, “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and its Enduring Impact on Indigenous Peoples” (WCC Executive Committee, Bossey, Switzerland, February 17, 2012),

31 Bosch, 188–89.

32 Lundberg, 201–17.

33 Ibid. Lundberg draws on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of “ultimate” and “penultimate” things.

34 Ibid.

35 Myers, Who, 338.

36 Mary DeMocker, “If Your House Is on Fire: Kathleen Dean Moore on the Moral Urgency of Climate Change,” The Sun 444 (December 2012): 6,

37 More information on watershed discipleship can be found online at

38 Brock Dolman, Basins of Relations: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watersheds, 2nd ed. (Occidental, CA: Water Institute, 2008).

39 Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2003), 118.

40 It is not my desire to prescribe where a home watershed (or multiple watersheds) might be for readers. Some may not have the option of choosing where to live due to work, family ties, or other determining factors. The point, however, is to begin the journey of reconciliation with a specific place.

41 For more about Pastor Delbert Rice, see Rob Finlayson, “In Memoriam Rev. Delbert Arthur Rice,” Agroforestry World, May 11, 2014,

42 “The liberation of the people depends utterly upon the liberation of the land itself.” Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, 20th Anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 339.

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Making Love with Leviathan: Resisting Amnesia from Placeless Economies

How can bioregionalism cultivate an enviro-missional imagination? Watershed discipleship is a local bioregional response to ecological crisis, but the watershed may also be extended into a theological framework that addresses the destruction of the uninhabited spaces of air and water called the global commons. Because industrialized humanity suffers from placelessness (ignorance about its global context), it cannot trace the effects of the waste it dumps in the places beyond the horizon, so it forgets about them. Placelessness leads to societal amnesia. By imaginatively integrating scientific, mythic, and philosophical concepts, this essay develops a bioregional response to the problem of the global commons. The author argues for local myths that are informed by global ecological systems and founded on a relational worldview that resists the societal amnesia induced by industrialization and cost-benefit analysis.

Something black rose from behind them, like a smudge at first, then widening, becoming deeper. The smudge became a cloud; and the cloud divided again into five other clouds, spreading north, east, south and west; and then they were not clouds at all but birds.

from The Birds by Daphne du Maurier

The apocalyptic film The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock, reveals a deep-seated fear of what is beyond the horizon. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s short story, the film takes place on the edge of terrestrial habitation. In Hitchcock’s film, the birds come from beyond the horizon. Over the course of the film, thousands of diverse species show up on the doorstep of human civilization, hungry for human blood. In the film as well as the short story, the birds peck the human eyes as a symbolic attack from forces that come from beyond visual perception. As creatures of the wind, birds have the unique evolutionary capacity to travel beyond the world of terrestrial, two-legged humans. Tapping into an ancient fear not of birds but of natural apocalypse, Hitchcock re-mythologized chaotic natural processes that seem to communicate vengeance.1 Like the First Testament’s plagues, the story describes nature preying upon human civilization. The Birds is rooted in a real event that occurred in Santa Cruz, California, during the summer of 1961.2 Hitchcock researched the event during the initial design phase of his film. Hundreds of sooty shearwaters crashed into windshields, windows, and buildings; thousands of dead shearwaters covered streets. Needless to say, the birds did not fly around tearing the eyeballs out of people.

With one of the longest migratory patterns among birds, shearwaters cover up to 39,000 miles annually.3 As a non-sedentary species, shearwaters are creatures from beyond the horizon. The orientation of their life history revolves around travel patterns between breeding and feeding grounds. The 1961 event in Santa Cruz remained a mystery, but many suggested the strange mass fatality was rooted within the chaotic seas. Scientists have hypothesized that the shearwaters had been poisoned by a substance called domoic acid that recently has had detrimental effects on humans.

These malevolent effects came to light in 1987 when a mysterious food poisoning outbreak hit Canada. Epidemiologists traced the ingested food to blue mussels harvested in the eastern waters of Prince Edward Island.4 Officials were confused by the unusual symptoms such as short-term memory loss, confusion, and death in some cases. Over the next few years, discovering the substance and origin of the poison proved to be an ecological murder mystery with many twists and turns. In the end, investigators found domoic acid to be the cause. Today the symptoms are called “amnesic shellfish poisoning” (ASP). Within a category of related eco-toxic substances, ASP can come from eating shellfish at key moments in the movement of energy in oceanic trophic systems. Succinctly stated, domoic acid and other similar toxins are expressed in dinoflagellates and diatoms. The allelopathic poisons serve a similar function that poisons serve in terrestrial plants—defense against predation. As filter feeders, shellfish are not affected by the poisons but store the compounds. Consequently, the concentration is magnified. Known as bioaccumulation, toxins often become concentrated in fat stores that, when ingested, have detrimental effects on the predator. The behavior of shearwaters in Santa Cruz can be explained by an overdose of domoic acid.

Dinoflagellates and other plankton are located at the base of a massive oceanic food web. Moving from the oceanic deep to the surface during various life cycles, plankton populations and species diversity are fundamentally determined by available nutrients within the system. During massive phytoplankton blooms, allelopathic toxins become concentrated, killing various types of predators including fish that swim through the blooms. Further, the toxins often become airborne as the wind disturbs the surface of the ocean and blows microscopic plankton into the air with the sea spray. During such unique events, coastal residents often suffer with intense allergy attacks from the wind-borne poisons.

Recently, changes in phytoplankton assemblies—both specie variety and population size—have been observed. The chaotic system of specie assembly, allelopathic expression, and massive phytoplankton blooms has only recently been statistically linked to global warming and nutrient loading from terrestrial agriculture. Many dangerous blooms occur just off the coast of areas where anthropogenic nutrient-loaded waters are dumped into the seas. Interestingly, the nutrients are the excess of city waste or chemical fertilizers.5

Hitchcock’s film and the 1987 discovery of the ASP outbreak serve as a kind of realized natural apocalypse. The film mythologizes, while the ASP outbreak parabolizes. The psychological thriller mythologizes a fear from beyond the horizon, while the ASP outbreak traces the cause and effects of industrialization on the placeless human global commons, particularly sea and air. The ASP outbreak describes the realization of a modern perspective on the global commons—a worldview which establishes the failure of industrial humanity to care for the uninhabited spaces that constitute the global commons. The effects of such a relationship with the global commons loop back from the mythic horizon and enculturate a profound memory loss in industrial cultures. This vision elucidates the need to cultivate a missional imagination robust enough to react to industrial myopia and cultivate ecological activism that verbalizes indigenous reconciliation with the primordial that dwells beyond the horizon. Bioregionalism is one fertile field for cultivating this relational re-imagining of the global commons that can value indigenous theology rooted in local ecology. The concern governing my entire exploration will be how bioregionalism, as both a philosophy and social activism, can provide a linguistic structure for an indigenous enviro-missional imagination. Considering the profound impact the corporate individual has on the global commons, any bioregional movement must concern itself with more than simply the local watershed. To that end, I will integrate mystical, theological, and ecological perspectives of the global commons that I hope will goad literate people into a renewed perspective on the great uninhabited spaces. The global commons are more than the fisheries of the great upwellings and more expansive than the polluted airs surrounding urban areas. Rather, the global commons are ecological verbalizations of the primordial. How does one protect the air? How do communities transfer environmental angst into action? How do bioregional activists defend expansive uninhabited spaces? The first step is to foster a bioregional cosmology.

The Extended Phenotype of the Industrial Human

Nutrient overload (eutrophication) is the main cause of the worldwide increase of harmful algal blooms (HABs). Furthermore, research confirms HABs’ increase is humanly generated (anthropogenic): due to the agricultural and waste management practices of modern habitation.6 Eutrophication is a peculiar effect of human behavior rooted in the placeless cultures of industrial capitalism and globalization. This behavior is both an extreme localism (a kind of hermeticism) and also a placelessness (exhibiting an ignorance of context). The flush of a toilet from a residence or the flush of fertilizer from a corn field are beyond the responsibility of the individual. Fecal matter and fertilizer move beyond the horizon to the mythical beyond; ignoring what is carried away by water, modern humanity only considers materials that are quantifiable within political, city-state boundaries. Further, by the arbitrary creation of borders and property, humanity loses a sense of responsibility for connected global processes. Eutrophication is a symptom of global industrialization, which ignores the consequences of human productivity within a larger world. I want to argue that eutrophication and other results of human (un)inhabitation are a kind of extended phenotype of the industrial human.

Evolution is measured only when scientists define the unit of selection. Selection since Darwin has been defined according to fitness of the individual as a unit. In 1982, Richard Dawkins coined the term “extended phenotype” to describe a different unit of selection—genes.

The phenotypic effects of a gene are tools by which it levers itself into the next generation, and these tools may “extend” far outside the body in which the gene sits, even reaching deep into the nervous systems of other organisms.7

According to this perspective, the battle of fitness occurs inside the individual organism instead of between individuals. The self-replicating gene, argued Dawkins, is a kind of archetype8 that expresses its visual phenotype as behavior or morphology. Instead of the organism fighting for dominance, the body of the organism is a tool for genetic propagation. In this sense various alleles represent the competitive field of Darwinian dominance.9 The result of the genetic battle is the momentary extension of a specific allele within an organism and providing the fittest phenotype. In essence, the phenotype is the visual extension into the macro-world of a micro-dictated pattern. For Dawkins’s extended phenotype, the extension does not stop at the borders of the individual; phenotypes can extend into the larger world outside the individual. This extension can be expressed in other organisms, including completely different species.10 Often the phenotypic extension alters the behavior of other organisms beyond the carrier of the gene. Beyond this, the extension does not stop with the biotic, but can extend out to the abiotic environment and shape the structure of habitats.

Further, since organisms represent successful combinations of coordinating genes, some have suggested the individual organism is a kind of macro-composite phenotype.11 The composite phenotype represents a cursory boundary in which genes reach a coexistence with other genes; the organism represents a miniature stable ecosystem. In the end, the ultimate quest for the origin of speciation appears to be a circular mirage in which the genetic archetype emanates but also returns. As the arche emanates outward, it interacts with other factors until a composite phenotype is expressed. Many such phenotypes express niche construction in which the environment is changed. Earthworms, beavers, and humans are lucid examples of species that construct niches out of abiotic materials.12 Proponents of niche construction, however, suggest the extended phenotype can extend back upon itself. As the phenotype extends into the environment, the world turns inside out; the internal arche reveals itself as enveloping the outside. Yet as the enfolding occurs, the environment conditions the inhabitant and provides pressure on genetic selection.13

The extended phenotype can help interpret modern human activity. Lacking only empirical evidence to determine the extent of genetic evolution, geneticists have evidence to show how human culture has a profound impact on genetic selection and its related phenotypes. One of the best examples with ample research is the allele of lactose tolerance. Present in only human populations which have had a historic tradition of dairy farming, lactose tolerance was expressed only after the practice of dairy farming was initiated. As a technology of production, domestication and animal husbandry represent a composite phenotypic package that provides the niche for dairy production. Dairy culture, as a stable tradition transmitted to future generations, represents a habitation or niche cultivated from a composite, extended human phenotype. However, the extension of the phenotype boomerangs back into the human as pressure selection for the lactose tolerant allele. As the ecologist Kevin Laland explains, “The selective environments of organisms are not independent of organisms but are themselves partly products of the prior niche-constructing activities of organisms.”14

How does the extended phenotype help explain the ecological quagmire of global industrialization? As masters of production, humans are the ultimate niche engineers. In view of the capacity to shape the environment around us, environmental determinism is untenable. Thus, like the skewed model of linear evolution only originating within the gene, human culture is not simply determined by the environment. For some, the archetypal coding of culture seems to replicate within the mind. However, the cyclical extension of the phenotype back upon itself provides a more nuanced way to understand human behavior. Culture is both a product of the arche within the mind and a byproduct of the chaotic repercussions of niche construction.

Specifically, the speed, quantity, and scope of modern human behavior characterize the niche of globalized industry.15 When production is quickened and quantified for non-regional consumption, a cultural niche is produced. Like any other organism, humans produce resources for habitation; the construction of niche represents a new organization of environmental materials and spaces. The non-regional gaze of industry fixes upon the consistent, rapid, profligate production necessary to feed infinite desire. Consequently, as a hallmark of globalization, time and space are compacted. Resources created over millions of years are decimated within seconds, and artifacts of human production are extricated from tradition to be artifacts without time. As time implodes, the overabundance of industrialization homogenizes space by flattening landscape into a non-referential nowhere. Johannesburg and Nashville are the same place. Not only can I travel there in the blink of an eye, but I can easily confuse both places as the same place. Summarily, the niche of industrialization is a kind of expansive, liminal, and timeless nowhere. Ecologically described, the industrial human niche is a phenotypic extension marked by over-production and indicating a species near extinction.16 The replicating industrial arche is exploding into the world and mixing with a complex planetary system to create a niche that has profound effects on human fitness.

Returning to the story of ASP, industrial production replicates locally, but flows beyond the horizon to a place we know not—the desert oceans. Furthermore, industrial production moves into the uninhabited global commons to sit on the face of the deep. Mining and defecating within the unbounded commons, the extended phenotype of modern cultures cultivates a niche in the beyond. The human niche has exploded into the uninhabited world; shock-waves have stirred the face of the deep. As it explodes into the global commons, humanity cannot trace the effects. In this sense, global industrialization has cultivated a niche for humanity that selects for amnesia. In a timeless, placeless existence, the allele for human memory is profoundly weakened. As overproduction extends into the global commons, the primordial space develops allelopathic toxins of amnesia. This amnesia is both obfuscation and myopia. Like an overloaded field of fertilizer, the wastes of industrialization journey to the place beyond the habited—beyond the horizon. The pathway and its effects are obfuscated due to the chaotic complexity of global air and water. Yet, global air and water are not only the wasteland for industrial defecation but also the source of continued production.17 Like any niche, the environment provides the structure both for energy that leaves the organism and energy that an organism consumes. Humanity cannot trace the effects; and so, obfuscation becomes the germ of a mental myopia that results in societal amnesia.

The Global Commons

By emphasizing the watershed, bioregionalism rightly reorients human perception. Individuals must not only take responsibility for the field they own but for the location of their field within a flow of energy. Whether an individual lives in the uplands of a catchment area or the fluvial flatlands, energy moves from sky to sea and back again. Further, bioregionalism suggests nation-states are inadequate to provide sustainable living. Human life must be placed within a larger watershed than a district, county, or state. Nevertheless, bioregionalism identifies an ecological boundary. Indeed, these frontiers are real and applicable, but the placeless processes of water and air, and wandering lifestyles such as the sooty shearwater’s, require an extension of bioregionalism into a global, mythic space.

International corporations have already defied the boundaries of nation-state and operate in the global airs and waters of planet earth; industrial economies operate on global scales. The quantification of city waste and industrial agriculture are examples of a pervading ethic within placeless globalization. The global commons are uninhabited spaces where industrial economies dump excesses as well as mine abundances. The global commons are different than the terrestrial commons of lake and pasture. Regulated commons have definable boundaries, inhabitants, and access. On the other hand, global commons do not have clear boundaries, do not have human habitation, and do not have non-technological access. From an ecological perspective, the global commons are at once massive reservoirs of energy and conveyor belts of energy. From a cultural perspective, the global commons are at once mythic spaces beyond human boundaries and wild spaces beyond human control. Integrating the two perspectives, the global commons are the locus for ecological cosmology, where chaos and memory are rooted.

Reading Luce Irigaray

Boundaries are very important to bioregionalism as an interdisciplinary movement that uses geography to spatialize space. In fact, the delineation of an ecological border is what provides the first indications of place. For example, Robert Thayer defines the first characteristic of a bioregion as “a physiographically unique place, a geographically legitimate concept, an identifiable region, and an operative spatial unit.”18 The description of place inevitably requires differentiation over against other landscapes, concepts, and ecologies. To cultivate robust, sustainable human communities, it is imperative to identify place. Nevertheless, there can be a forgetfulness or amnesia of the constituents from which place is constructed. Following the suggestion that the global water cycle is a kind of placeless process, Luce Irigaray provides a critique of Western philosophy that can aid in relocating the global commons within Western culture. Irigaray argues Western philosophy has a type of amnesia that marginalizes the birthplace of life. According to Irigaray, Martin Heidegger’s meditation on the relationship of Being to place is a kind of repression. Heidegger suggests man creates the world through logos; the verbal construction of place is the dwelling of Being. We live in what we create. Heidegger uses the concept of a bridge to reveal this in-dwelling:

The bridge . . . does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. The bridge designedly causes them to lie across from each other. One side is set off against the other by the bridge. . . . With the banks, the bridge brings to the stream the one and the other expanse of the landscape lying behind them. It brings stream and bank and land into each other’s neighborhood. The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream.19

Consequently, the building of a bridge is a concept in which humanity-dwelling-in-the-world names, describes, and brings into relation its environment. However, Irigaray argues Heidegger forgets from which the bridge, the bank, and the stream are constructed:

Built on the void, the bridge joined two banks that, prior to its construction, were not: the bridge made two banks. And further: the bridge, a solidly established passageway, joins two voids that, prior to its construction, were not: the bridge made the void. How not suspend that toward which it goes, that toward which it returns, in a serene awaiting.20

It is the logos, the rational spoken word that first divides the void, the deep, or the chaotic placeless substrate that founds the bridge. Irigaray suggests Western philosophy creates a dwelling at the expense of what cannot be conceptualized. For her, the placeless substrate is fluidity, process, and passage; the dominant metaphor used to concretize the placeless dwelling from which Being lives is air. The air defies boundaries but surrounds and enfolds Being. It is the womb from which life is birthed. Consequently, place is not where boundaries are established, but where boundaries are removed; place is fuzzy. The fluidity of place requires an acceptance of permeability and porosity. Sex and pregnancy provide biological examples of this kind of place:

The fetus is a continuum with the body it is in. . . . It passes from a certain kind of continuity to another through the mediation of fluids: blood, milk. . . .

There are times when the relation of place in the sexual act gives rise to a transgression of the envelop, to a porousness, a perception of the other, a fluidity.21

Irigaray reminds us that the bioregion is enfolded by a larger placeless, uninhabited space. Swirling through the trees, passing through my body, and condensing from another dimension, the global commons are the chaotic waters and hovering spirit.22 The global commons are the ecological unbounded place of cosmology. Later, we will see how this formless space is the beyond-the-horizon location of an imaginal world intersecting the beyond with the line of our perception. For now, I hope to maximize the development of the global commons as the uterus of all bioregions. Global atmosphere and ocean are non-linguistic elements with a fecundity of dwelling spaces. All verbal dwellings, geographical conceptions, and logocentric units are reductions of a larger reality that cannot be named. Whether regions are defined as bioregions or nation-states, these dwellings are already built up from a frothy void. The global commons must be re-mythologized as the primordial elements of water and air. Without a primordial cosmology, uniquely enfleshed in various bioregions, all forms of terrestrial dwelling will be overturned by the primordial froth. Irigaray suggests the need for a relational approach to the primordial in contrast to the logo-centric domination of the void. By remembering the global commons through primordial cosmology, humanity is brought into relation. As society forgets the primordial, the creatures of the deep stir. Stated differently, the extended phenotype of Western globalized culture will wash downstream into the deep where niche construction will quickly precipitate a crash; the Leviathan will play.

The Leviathan and Global Commons

Recently, process theology, chaos theory, and postmodern theopoetics23 have engaged the rich texts and subtexts of ancient Hebrew primordial myths. For my purposes, I want to focus on the Leviathan text of Job 41. The voice that Job has been goading to speak finally speaks in chapter 41. The voice whistles from a whirlwind. Couched as a deluge of questions, the voice asks if Job is aware of the mythic beast called Leviathan:

No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up. Who can stand before it? Who can confront it and be safe? . . .When it raises itself up the gods are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. . . . It makes the deep boil like a pot. (Job 41:10–11, 25, 31)24

For my purposes, Job is not a book about explaining injustice, but a discursive meditation of losing the mythical cosmology of a world in relation to others.25 The content of God’s response is cosmological, refusing to explain the meaning of the world according to human interests. The voice of God emanates from the same turbulence that shook the roof down upon Job’s children. When the voice responds, it does not provide answer to the question, “Why me?” Rather, the voice overpowers Job. Strictly speaking, Job experiences an epiphany, or in Catherine Keller and Timothy Beal’s language, a “tehophany.” Job is enveloped into chaos. The voice from the air reminds Job of the multiple intelligences beyond the horizon within the deep. The Leviathan is a personification of chaos and the primordial unbounded tehom of Genesis 1.26 Both Keller and Beal see the divine voice from the whirling air as an extreme vision of the divine—not as the master of chaos, but within chaos.

The gods are fearful in the face of the Leviathan. The man-made gods of creation ex nihilo, the gods who tower over creation whipping it into submission, cower at the bubbling surface of the deep. These industrial gods who only view creation through domination are surprised at the self-organizing voice that speaks from the deep; the voice—from the whirlwind that synchronizes into syllables, the message that blooms from billions of independent sun-catching organisms, and the face perceived from the steam of the boiling deep—emanates from a primordial place. The untamed Leviathan from primordial space and time is the material which the Spirit of God hovers over in Genesis and the substance of Job’s tehophany. The synchronicity of worldly elements is a kind of “material mysticism”27 that rips into the industrial world of humanity. Job lives on the surface of reality—as all organisms must do—crying, biting, and retching for survival. Yet, his reality drops into the deep when the voice whistles out of the air. From the same chaotic destruction, a voice of fecundity reseeds a new world. Importantly, the reseeding of new life only begins when Job drowns in a cosmology he does not understand. The violence and oxygenation of the bubbling waters around the Leviathan provide a “chaosmos” that is both self-annihilation and regeneration.28

A chaosmos provides a fruitful context for developing a relational perspective to the world. The objectification of the cosmos is a hallmark of industrialization. Broken into non-regenerative pieces, modern civilization takes the face and the voice out of the world. Cosmological personalities provide the structure to hear the voice that emanates out of self-organizing, self-synchronizing sentience. In Job, the dialogue of the Tempter with the Lord undergirds a perception of the universe that suggests chaotic forces are in dialogue. I would suggest Job loses his capacity to hear the primordial voices as his world is destroyed. The majority of the book is a dialogue with non-primordial sentient beings. He rails against the God of heaven to goad God into a response. Unaware of the dialogue in the air, Job is forced to scream back into the atmospheric abyss. When Job passes through the period of waiting, he accepts the possibility of self-annihilation. Though Job is capable of killing God through curse, he refuses to die as an individual-without-relation. When the voice comes, it offers a renewed world-in-relation via the Leviathan. Being in relation to the tehom, Job is both horrified and soothed. The Leviathan is a lover that regenerates through self-annihilation. I will return to the idea of self-annihilation later. At this stage in the paper, I merely want to argue that Job is brought back into relation with the primordial personalities that destroyed his world. In fact, as the story ends, the reader is told that the Lord-of-the-whirlwind regenerates more abundance for Job. The reader leaves Job at a feast in which his friends offer sympathy for the “evil the Lord had done to him.” We can only assume the scars of the event die with Job. Though Job’s friends provide an easy linear causation back to the Lord, the reader is left with a primordial presence that is at once the face of the Tempter, the heavenly Lord, and the Leviathan. What will bubble up from the deep next is impossible to know. But how do ancient primordial characters relate to our modern problems?

Cost/Benefit Analysis and the Global Commons

A relational worldview is the fuel for myth cultivation. The industrial civilization of objectification will not approach sustainable coexistence on earth because sustainability is living in relation to other beings. The relationship with the global commons must be approached through cosmological mythic structures. The Leviathan entices us and horrifies us. But when the world is objectified, perceptual cataracts develop and we lose sight of the face that rises to the surface. Today, environmental policy-making uses cost/benefit analysis, which is based on the idea that complex wholes can be broken into quantifiable parts.29 Ecosystems and even human life can be counted and fit into a quantifiable economic system. The counting cardinals of modern capitalism demonstrate how blinded industrial society has become to the excess that bubbles out of systems. The excess is part of all holistic systems and a trademark of a chaosmos. Though scientists can count average nutrient overflow from agriculture fields, they cannot count the chaotic relationship nutrients have to a primordial world. We cannot count objects if they are in relation to the primordial. Put differently, we cannot count that which is related to eternity. Cost/benefit analysis is simply a floating island that appears to provide a solid foundation for assessment and risk analysis. Yet the waters are bubbling from the deep on which it floats.

Mundus Imaginalis and the Global Commons

If bioregionalism will offer a more sustainable relationship to the sentience around us, we must develop a mythos beyond regionalism that cultivates relationship to the primordial. From a more philosophical-literary language, the global industrialization of life systems into quantifiable parts represents the objectification of processes, fluidity, and quality. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard re-mythologized the great global tropes of earth, air, water, and fire. He suggested that an adjective is at the center of the universe not a noun. Objects are merely embodiments of qualities. According to David Miller, a close reader of Bachelard, modern thought forced the substantive into concrete substance.30 In a move towards quantification, “adjectives came to be absorbed into nouns.”31 Nevertheless, at the bottom of the world the philosopher does not find a concrete object but a process, a quality, or a dancing spirit that verbalizes and adjectivizes.

Consequently, if we combine Irigaray’s thought with Bachelard’s, the primordial, unbounded, uninhabited nowhere of the global commons is more properly verbalizations and descriptions of a larger life. This life presents a face to humanity. Like Irigaray’s primordial void, we cannot speak of the ocean as a place, but as a process. The oceans and air vibrate relationality into the cosmos. The Leviathan formulates and verbalizes from the deep.

However, Bachelard offers one final nuance of adjectives that will help us connect the global commons to the work of myth-making from diverse bioregions. Bachelard’s concept of verticality refers to a specific function of adjectives that embody epiphany. Key embodiments of verticality in the world provide a relational connection to humanity that both “soars up” and “stretches” down.32 As Richard Kearney notes, Bachelard’s verticality was a unification of contradictory elements.33 The stretching of space into a vertical expanse instructively images the connectivity and unfinished relationship of the contradictory elements. This is especially instructive for affirming the global commons as the space of primordial tehophany. Job is both enticed and horrified by the Leviathan. There is feasting and also empathy for the evil done. Laughter and horror provide the epiphanic event when the face of the deep personifies onto the human landscape.

For Bachelard, the coupled contradiction compacted ordinary time, disrupted ordinary thought, and pushed the energy and tension into a verticality of height and depth. He claimed the “epiphanic instant” preeminently occurred in the peculiar adjectival speech of poetry. More specifically, the poetic is a kind of imagination that both induces and is induced by the epiphanic instant. Though Bachelard used the literary poem as the vehicle for the imagination to epiphanize, I do not think it follows that we must isolate poetry and bias the cosmological imagination to one specific literary structure. As an ancient oral form, poetry is rooted in narrative dialogue as rhapsodies such as Homer’s so adequately show. But what is the cosmological imagination? Is human imagination merely an escape from reality?

Henry Corbin and the Mundus Imaginalis

We now approach the organ for the human capacity to image mythic archetype—the capacity of imagination. From such diverse thinkers as anthropologist David Graeber and cultural ecologist David Abram, the imagination is a rich subject for exploring the relationship of human thought and ideation with the environmental embodiment of human perception.34 However, for my purposes, I will only briefly elucidate the “mundus imaginalis” of Henry Corbin and the Iranian Islamic mystics.

David Miller has provided an insightful connection between Bachelard’s work and the expansive work of the theosopher Henry Corbin vis-à-vis verticality.35 I will borrow this connection to use the mundus imaginalis as a tool for cultivating a mythic relational posture toward the global commons.

As Corbin notes in a book on Islamic philosophy:

Because it has not had to confront the problems raised by what we call the “historical consciousness,” philosophical thought in Islam moves in two counter yet complementary directions: issuing from the Origin (mabda’), and returning (ma’ad) to the Origin, issue and return both taking place in a vertical dimension. Forms are thought of as being in space rather than in time. Our thinkers perceive the world not as “evolving” in a horizontal and rectilinear direction, but as ascending: the past is not behind us but “beneath our feet.”36

The extended phenotype and the ecological niche effects that return to the archetypal center sit more comfortably in a spatial framework than simply a linear evolutionary model. As we dive deeper into the microcosm, we find a shadow of the macrocosm. A scholar of Iranian Islamic mysticism, Corbin aligns verticality with the ancient esoteric traditions of Islamic mysticism that re-imagined Zoroastrian angelology and Platonic/neo-Platonic thought. Ushered into stages of ascent and descent, verticality defines the space where the mundus imaginalis operates. The imaginal world of Corbin and the ancient theosophers is an intermediary space between sensation and intellect. Without reducing the imaginal world into the fictional imaginary, this intermediary space provides the perception of the ecstatic vision. In the imaginal world, Moses hears the voice from the burning bush, Jacob sees a ladder extending into heaven, and Job hears the voice from the whirlwind.37 An expert on Corbin’s thought, Tom Cheetham explains the imaginal world as giving

access to an intermediate realm of subtle bodies, of real presences, situated between the sensible world and the intelligible. . . . On Corbin’s view all the dualisms of the modern world stem from the loss of the mundus imaginalis: matter is cut off from spirit, sensation from intellection, subject from object, inner from outer, myth from history, the individual from the divine.38

Between the dualisms of Western consciousness, a void exists. The dualism either causes the imaginal to be fantasy and imaginary or the imaginal is a kind of faculty for artists who do not really live in reality anyway. For the ancient Persian theosophers, the mundus imaginalis, or the ‘alam al-mithal, was grounded in a complex cosmology that related to a complex progression that ascended to the divine. This cosmology was expressed as verticality. In a non-mythical sense, the mundus imaginalis is the faculty of the poet who perceives the adjective/adverb that embodies the world. The imaginal is the bridge that snaps discrete components into metaphor and provides the face or person of the world. For Corbin, unless the mundus imaginalis has

a cosmology whose schema can include, as does the one that belongs to our traditional philosophers, the plurality of universes in ascensional order, our Imagination will remain unbalanced, its recurrent conjunctions with the will to power will be an endless source of horrors. We will be continually searching for a new discipline of the Imagination, and we will have great difficulty in finding it as long as we persist in seeing in it only a certain way of keeping our distance with regard to what we call the real, and in order to exert an influence on that real.39

As Cheetham plainly states, the active Imagination must be seen as a faculty that emanates from beyond the human.40 Otherwise, the secularization of today will label the active Imagination as fantasy. The space where imaginative perception congeals from sensation and intellection must be from a primordial beyond. For the Persian Islamic mystics, the ‘alam al-mithal originated from the divine. For bioregionalism, I believe we must connect the sense of the divine with the beyond of the horizon, with the uninhabited global commons where the Leviathan plays in excess. The excess that reverberates and re-extends back into the genetic archetype cannot be calculated or quantified but is the emergent voice of the primordial Leviathan.

For Corbin, the mundus imaginalis is not a morally charged faculty. Like the vertical polarity unifying contradiction, the mundus imaginalis constructs the perception in which we are horrified and elated.41 The active Imagination is the vehicle by which we can hear the voice that whistles from the whirlwind. However, Corbin adamantly argues that without a cosmology that pushes the origin of the imaginal into a supra-consciousness, it will collapse into a one-dimensional secularized world ready to be quantified. For this reason, the tehophanic event signals a moment of decision. The Leviathan threatens to stretch the individual into two. Like Job when the voice emanates from the whirlwind and the deep bubbles forth the Leviathan, we are given a pivotal moment to respond: “On one there is the Death of God and the birth of a Promethean, rapacious, and monstrous Humanity. On the other, Resurrection and the poverty of a life in sympathy with beings.”42

The mundus imaginalis is not an Islamic sensibility. Though Corbin stresses the importance of how the imaginal worked with the mystical cosmology of Iranian Sufism, it does not require a Muslim worldview. We may take a final suggestion from Corbin to place the active Imagination into a context in which it can be used by diverse religious traditions including local Christian theologies. Here I quote Corbin’s use of the Iranian philosopher Ibn ‘Arabi:

“Each being,” says Ibn ‘Arabi, “has as his God only his particular Lord, he cannot possibly have the Whole.”

Here we have a kind of kathenotheism verified in the context of a mystic experience; the Divine Being is not fragmented, but wholly present in each instance, individualized in each theophany.43

Without allowing a specific religious tradition to dominate the divine, Corbin suggests a traditioned theophany that emanates from the esoteric deep. In this sense, we need people from multiple religious traditions to reach into the primordial stories of their own traditions and the primordial space of the global commons and actively perceive what is bubbling in the face of the deep.

For my purposes, Corbin provides a pliable mysticism that avoids exoteric fundamentalism necessary for a bioregional discipleship. Indeed, Job exemplifies the positive use of the mundus imaginalis when he faces the divine presence that emanates from the primordial air; the book closes with Job resurrected and experiencing a “poverty of life in sympathy with beings.” Job’s friends gather around him in sympathy for the “evil the Lord had done to him.” From the whirlwind that killed his family, Job hears the voice of God. Reconciliation is not achieved by the addition of new barns and children. Rather, Job is brought back into a relationship with the primordial deep. God’s voice whistles from this void, and Job’s ability to hear God from the chaos resituates Job in a world infused with the divine presence. Job’s reconciliation is cosmic and results in sympathy with other beings.

Further, Corbin’s mysticism provides space for valuing the indigenous traditions found in unique watersheds. The simple acknowledgement of religious pluralism does not require a collapse into relativism, but a deeper commitment to the tradition in conversation with a larger global commons ecology. Religious traditions are watersheds which mythologize about the primordial global commons.

Rebirthing Orality: Storied Myth

Over the preceding pages, I have tried to read various scholars to suggest the global commons are the ecological intersection where the divine boils over from primordial void into human imagination. We have a deep-seated fear of and wonder at the primordial fluidity of air and sea. Reading Job, I have suggested the divine voice emanates from the chaotic swirling air (whirlwind) or bubbling deep (Leviathan). Job provides location for ecological epiphany and consequently provides the geography of cosmological Imagination. Analogically, Job’s anthropocentrism is mirrored in the industrialized relationship with creation. As a relationship of dominance and extraction, modern humanity lives alone in a material world devoid of divine presence. In effect for industrial society, the material world swirls around a singular sentience—humanity. Nevertheless, the actions of modern society have profound ecological effects; the primordial deep is stirred. If the industrial human can be characterized as a peculiar composite phenotype, we may wonder how the phenotype is extended into the world. By tracing ecotoxicological results via hindsight, I have symbolized amnesic shellfish poisoning as the result of the extended phenotype of industrial humanity. Consequently, the industrial allele of modern civilization returns from the global commons as amnesia. Different than terrestrial commons, the global commons demand a decentering of human concerns. I believe we will not discover our role as creatures of the earth until we experience the tehophanic event bubbling from the primordial global commons. Until we perceive a larger sentience within the global commons, we will fail to live sustainably in a world of finite resources. Myth gives a face to the resident chaos in the global commons. The mythic traditions woven out of the diverse watersheds can be cosmogonic myths that put industrialized humanity in relationship with the primordial.

As renewed myth, the task must be an oral activism and not a literate conference, publication, or tweet, because the amnesia induced by our global industrial complex is aggravated by literacy dependency. Though literate culture provides incredible resources for the storage of knowledge, it also profoundly affects the social and mental processes of humanity.44 In particular, literacy objectifies memory, externalizes remembrance, and severs the relational nature of knowledge. For myth-making to provide a social backbone that can foster a bioregional cosmology, the process must be oral.

However, language is not a thing but an event.45 Language and its discrete words are sounds rooted in bodily gestural speech.46 In this sense, cosmogonic myths are narrated conversations with both human and more-than-human sentient beings about the beyond-the-human-horizon. These myths are rooted in the oral event of epiphany and refined through social extension. The abstraction and objectification of language onto the page have depersonalized and demythologized the cosmos. As an event, all verbalizations of cosmogonic myth are a singular annunciation that compacts time into a vertical space within the context. The oral myth is not repeated but created anew as it is shared, discussed, and reformatted within the present moment and communal space.

For the ancient Greeks, the act of remembering was itself a mythic returning to the primordial waters. The Muses were the mythic personality of memory and remembrance. To re-member the world, the poet needed help to voice the story. Consequently, though memory was external to the poet, it was personified and required participation with sentience. As Ivan Illich says, “Each utterance was like a piece of driftwood the speaker fished from a river, something cast off in the beyond that had just then washed up onto the beaches of his mind.”47 These waters were the embodiment of one of the Titans—Mnemosyne; she held all the memories of the dead within her primordial waters. Yet the impact of literacy cemented memory onto the page.48 Plato had a complicated relationship with writing, and the shift from a primary to secondary orality can be discerned within his writing. For example, in his epistemological work, Theaetetus, Plato uses a literate metaphor to consider how knowledge is remembered. He puts the suggestion in the words of Socrates:

Please assume, then, for the sake of argument, that there is in our souls a block of wax.
. . . Let us, then, say that this is the gift of Mnemosyne (Memory), the mother of the Mousai (Muses), and that whenever we wish to remember anything we see or hear or think of in our own minds, we hold this wax under the perceptions and thoughts and imprint them upon it, just as we make impressions from seal rings. . . .49

The participatory nature of knowledge and perception is largely lost when we lose the necessity to ask the Muses for remembrance and concretize knowledge onto the page. Plato begins to technologize memory onto a page within his mind. From such a metaphor, it would seem history inevitably reduced participatory memory onto an external page. Nonetheless, the word is not a sign, but the gesticulated verbalization of the body of the world. The literate conferences Western culture promulgates will be largely uneventful until the oral word is released back into the primordial air and water. Only then will the word become event and usher from the whirlwind. In this light, many indigenous peoples who maintain a tight connection to oral tradition must be at the center of a bioregional activism that will be robust enough to engage with the problems of the global commons.


God-via-Leviathan is in the excess—the overflow and the boiling over of reality. The Leviathan slashes instantly and rips open a verticality that carries us into a tehophany. The moment does not evolve into being but snaps into being. The sentient processes of global systems bubble over in fecundity. From the chaotic deep, billions of sentient beings boil into a primordial bloom. The ecological vertical “epiphanic instant” comes from beyond the horizon, from the deep, and from above. The verticality drives us to imagine as we are stretched along the vertical axis of height and depth. Our toes are driven into the basalt bottoms of the sea while our arms are dragged into the sky abyss. Like a cosmic whirling dervish, the stretched posture opens being to the imaginal world. Only a stretched, cosmic mythology can provide the structure for reconciliation to the Leviathan whose home is beyond the horizon. The Leviathan sleeps in the allelopathic abundance of microbial fecundity. Linear time does not run horizontally, but up and down in a hydrological cycle involving a departure and return—an evaporation and precipitation. As terrestrial inhabitants, we are in relationship to the global commons of air and water. Air and water are substantive verbalizations of the cosmos and not substances we can cut apart and count. Only a relational posture to these global commons will provide a regenerative culture for diverse bioregions.

I believe this excursive investigation provides numerous resources for missiological renewal. First, the divine presence described through Leviathan and whirlwind suggest a wild God that is in relation with sentient beings beyond human. Consequently, reconciliation is a cosmic goal and not simply about human redemption. Humanity is redeemed as creation is redeemed. Further, though God may not be conflated with the Leviathan, God is within the primordial void. As God speaks from the whirlwind and intimately knows the Leviathan, so to be in relation with the global commons is to be in communication with God. Second, the investigation hints toward a kind of mystical missiology that can be ecologically grounded. Often God’s mission is conflated to an anthropocentric soteriology. Like Job, reconciliation resituates humanity within the cosmos. Corbin, Bachelard, and Irigaray provide ways for a more relational posture to the material world and a more accessible ecological mysticism. Through the mundus imaginalis, a postmodern missiology can experience grounded epiphany. This is important for relating the diverse experiences of people and the traditions in which they inhabit. Third, a missional activism should give more attention to contextualized cosmogony. Oral myths which bring society into relation with the primordial provide not only an activism for creation care but foster a sustainable relationship with watershed and local economy.

Kyle Holton worked for nine years in northern Mozambique among the Yao helping initiate a natural resource community center called Malo Ga Kujilana. In 2012 he and his family returned to the States. Kyle is a high school teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has an MA in Intercultural Studies and an MS in Environmental Science.


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1 Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London: Routledge, 2003), suggests a primordial terror of the chaotic deep has been cultivated since the ancient creation myths such as the Enuma Elish, in which Tiamat the mother of the deep was demonized into a dragon.

2 Wally Trabing, “Seabird Invasion Hits Coastal Homes,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 18, 1961,

3 Tim Stephens, “Study Documents Marathon Migrations of Sooty Shearwaters,” UC Santa Cruz Currents Online 11, no. 4 (August 2006):

4 Michael A. Quilliam and Jeffrey L. C. Wright, “The Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning Mystery,” Analytical Chemistry 61, no. 18 (September 1989): 1053A–60A,

5 Donald M. Anderson, et al., “Harmful Algal Blooms and Eutrophication: Examining Linkages from Selected Coastal Regions of the United States,” Harmful Algae 8, no. 1 (2008): 39–53.

6 Ibid.

7 Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype: The Gene as the Unit of Selection (Oxford: Freeman, 1982), vi.

8 I owe the application of archetype to Kevin N. Laland, “Extending the Extended Phenotype,” Biology and Philosophy 19 (2004): 313,

9 To clarify, a phenotype refers to observable traits of individuals. Alleles are different types of the same gene.

10 “Zombie” insects have been infected by certain fungi and baculoviruses. The insects will position themselves in top canopy positions before death in order to provide optimal sporulation of the parasite. This behavior has long mystified scientists since it is optimal for the parasite and dangerous for the host as an open place for predation. Recently, the gene has been isolated with a baculovirus that proves the extension of phenotypic effects from one gene into another organism. For further information, see Kelli Hoover, et al., “A Gene for an Extended Phenotype,” Science 333, no. 6048 (September 2011): 1401,

11 As a recent inhabitant of the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas, I have been perplexed and frustrated—as a gardner—to the gravel layer on the surface of most soil profiles. Jonathan Phillips, “Soils as Extended Composite Phenotypes,” Geoderma 149, no. 1–2 (February 2009): 143–51, shows how the soil profile is an extended composite phenotype of the mixed short-leaf pine and hardwood forests that are natural to the area. In essence, the phenotypic peculiarities of the trees shape and effect the soil.

12 Kevin N. Laland and Kim Sterelny, “Perspective: Seven Reasons (not) to Neglect Niche Construction,” Evolution 60, no. 9 (September 2006): 1752, describe how beavers make dramatic changes to the environment by building a dam, creating a lake, slowing nutrient flow and changing vegetation selection. Yet the essential genetic expression of home building changes the environment in such a way that new selection pressures are applied back to the beaver. Also, in Laland, “Extending,” 319 ff., earthworms are massive contributors to soil genesis and can drastically affect the chemistry and structure of soils. This change is due to the biological needs of the earthworm. Essentially, the network of tunnels created by the earthworm are a kind of external kidney since earthworms retain their freshwater kidneys. In this sense, the soil is adapting to the needs of the earthworm. Finally, I will discuss the issue of lactose tolerance with humans below. For further details see, Kevin N. Laland, John Odling-Smee, and Sean Myles, “How Culture Shaped the Human Genome: Bringing Genetics and the Human Sciences Together,” Nature 11, no. 2 (February 2010): 137–48,

13 I am purposely molding my description of the extended phenotype to prepare a way for a mythic orientation of our current understanding of evolution.

14 Laland, “Extending,” 319.

15 There are endless definitions of globalization that I do not want to discuss at this juncture. However, I am defining the character of global production as industrialization marked by an increase in speed, quantity, and scope.

16 Ecologists have long noted how species with high reproduction rates exist in more chaotic environments where survivorship is low.

17 Specifically, the oceanic commons are the uninhabited human seascapes where we forage for marine life.

18 Robert L. Thayer, LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 15.

19 Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” trans. David Farrell Krell, in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 330, quoted in Joanne Faulkner, “Amnesia at the Beginning of Time: Irigaray’s Reading of Heidegger in the Forgetting of Air,” Contretemps 2 (May 2001): 130,

20 Luce Irigaray, The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, trans. Mary Beth Mader (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999), 30, quoted in Faulkner, “Amnesia,” 131.

21 Luce Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornell University Press, 1993), 46, quoted in Faulkner, “Amnesia,” 137.

22 I am reminded of Genesis 1, when the Spirit of the Lord hovers over the face of the deep.

23 Keller, a reader of Luce Irigaray, reconstructs the deep, or tehom, of the creation myths and rereads the nature of the Leviathan in Job in Face of the Deep. Timothy Beal, Religion and Its Monsters (New York: Routledge, 2002), takes a different approach to the monstrous, but also rereads the importance of the tehom and Leviathan. Finally, John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), has read Catherine Keller’s project to develop a robust theopoetics that attempts to locate God within the chaotic event of a creation that emanates from the deep.

24 Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

25 Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988), 155–56, writes, “Never really addressing Job’s charge of injustice, God changes the subject from ordinary experience to cosmogony.” In reference to God’s address to Job, Levenson adds, “The brunt of that harangue is that creation is a wondrous and mysterious place that baffles human assumptions and expectations because it is not anthropocentric but theocentric.”

26 Timothy Beal, “Mimetic Monsters: The Genesis of Horror in the Face of the Deep,” Postscripts 4, no. 1 (2008): 85–93.

27 Ibid., 88.

28 Beal argues that he and Keller create a complicated response to the Leviathan that is at once joy and horror. For Beal, this marks the essence of true tehophany.

29 Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling, Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing (New York: New Press, 2004).

30 David Miller, “The Body Is No Body,” in Apophatic Bodies: Negative Theology, Incarnation, and Relationality, Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquia, ed. Chris Boesel and Catherine Keller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 140.

31 Ibid., 140.

32 Ibid., 141.

33 Richard Kearney, “Bachelard and the Epiphanic Instant,” Philosophy Today 52 Supplement (2008): 38,

34 David Graeber, Revolutions in Reverse (London: Minor Compositions, 2011), 46, argues for a “political ontology of the imagination” as both the Marxist form of production in which the imagination conceives structure and implements it into the word, and also a medieval view of “immanent” imagination as the space between reality and reason where perception is produced. David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996), argues for an imagination deeply intertwined with a sensorial, participatory eco-phenomenology.

35 Most of my comments on Henry Corbin are informed by the extensive work done by Tom Cheetham. A good introduction is Tom Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism (Woodstock, Connecticut: First Spring Journal Books, 2003).

36 Henry Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy (London: Kegan Paul International, 1993), 4.

37 Tom Cheetham, Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005), 65.

38 Ibid., 3.

39 Quoted in Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out, 79.

40 Ibid. states, “For without Intellect or Imagination understood as coming from a divine source beyond the ego, the only desires we can have are those forced upon us by history.”

41 Citing Semnani’s mystical cosmology, Cheetham dwells on the penultimate level of Jesus and the luminous black. Cheetham spends a spacious section explaining Corbin’s critique of incarnational theology to which I am sympathetic.

42 Cheetham, Green Man, 76.

43 Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out, 162.

44 For a thorough analysis of the cultural and cognitive differences between oral and literate people, see Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, New Accents (London: Methuen, 1982).

45 Walter Ong, “Before Textuality: Orality and Interpretation,” Oral Tradition 3, no. 3 (1988): 265.

46 In The Spell of the Sensuous David Abram reads Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of language into a robust animistic cosmology that finds human communication rooted in the sensory experience with the world around us. Further Walter Ong notes the highly “somatic” quality of memorized verse among oral peoples is an inevitable part of communication in Orality and Literacy, 66.

47 Ivan Illich, H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness: Reflections on the Historicity of “Stuff” (Dallas: Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1985), 33.

48 Ibid., 32, notes that “not one Greek city has preserved an altar dedicated to Mnemosyne.”

49 Plato, Theaetetus.